REGGIE HAYES: Purdue football coach Jeff Brohm almost too good for Boilermakers
Slow down there, Jeff Brohm. At this rate, you’re going to coach yourself right out of Purdue University, plunging the Boilermakers faithful into despair.
Despair might be an exaggeration. Let’s say they’d be bummed.
With a win over Indiana in the Old Oaken Bucket home game at noon Saturday at Ross-Ade Stadium, Purdue would finish 6-6 in Brohm’s first regular season. That record is the epitome of average in the real world, but it looks miraculous in the context of Purdue football in the post-Joe Tiller era.
Here are further problems: If Purdue wins, it goes to a bowl game. If it wins that bowl game, it finishes 7-6. If it finishes 7-6 with a roster most outsiders pegged for 3-9 if not 2-10, then Brohm looks like the second coming of Urban Meyer. If Brohm looks like the second coming of Meyer, here comes Florida or Tennessee or UCLA looking to talk.
If you’re a Purdue fan, you almost want to lose to Indiana to make sure Brohm sticks around. Key word: Almost.
Brohm’s biggest win in his first season at Purdue came last Saturday when the Boilermakers went to Iowa and beat the Hawkeyes 24-15 to set up an unexpected opportunity against the Hoosiers.
“This year (the Bucket game) means something and the winner gets to advance and the loser stays home,” Brohm said. “That’s really what football is all about, and that’s why when you schedule a rivalry game the last week, hopefully there’s something even more riding on it.”
Purdue’s play under Brohm seems even more incredible when you consider they suffered three relatively close losses: 35-28 to Louisville, 14-12 to Rutgers and 25-24 to Nebraska. The game against Rutgers, a team IU beat 41-0 last week, is one that Brohm would surely like to have back.
The Nebraska game was there for the taking, too.
“I don’t like to lose,” Brohm said. “It’s not fun. It makes you angry. And, really, you want some of that in your team. You want them to be angry at the fact we’re losing, and find a way to dig deeper to win.”
When Brohm arrived from Western Kentucky to take over a Purdue team that was 3-9 last season, Purdue fans would have considered the season a success if he won three games and one of those was over Indiana. Purdue signed Brohm to a six-year, $20-million deal to fix a broken program.
Now, a win over Indiana would put Purdue in position to finish above .500 for only the second time since Tiller was 8-5 in 2007. Danny Hope had one winning season (7-6 in 2011) and Darrell Hazell never won more than three games.
“You’ve just got to tip your hat to them and say, hey, they’re doing a heck of a job,” Indiana coach Tom Allen said. “Once again, his staff was together at Western Kentucky. I don’t know if it’s every single coach, but it’s sure the majority. They do a tremendous job. They bought into what they’re doing.”
Could the Boilermakers beat the Hoosiers? The Rutgers results aside, they both beat Illinois by a similar margin, Purdue came closer at Wisconsin (a 17-9 loss) than Indiana did at home against Wisconsin (a 45-17 loss).
Brohm is known as an offensive coach, although his roster doesn’t have all the pieces needed to put his strategies in motion. Allen is known as a defensive coach, and he does have a relatively strong roster. So those opposite base styles would seem to foretell an interesting game.
Both teams are desperate for a win, and the right to a bowl invitation, although falling short would be more devastating for Indiana. Both schools hired new coaches, but the Hoosiers’ roster was substantially more experienced and perceived to be more talented.
Both coaches have made inroads with the fan base. Brohm tends to be perceived – everything is perception – as the hotter commodity and a possible target of other big-time programs.
“We know what’s at stake for both sides,” Allen said. “Love that. Ton of respect for coach Brohm and what he’s done at Purdue in a very short time. He has really transformed them.”
Allen referenced the win at Iowa, which Brohm called Purdue’s best overall game of the season.
“To win at Iowa is impressive,” Allen said. “We understand we have to be at our very, very best this week.”
The production, in terms of play and wins, that Brohm has prompted out of Purdue gives the Boilermakers’ faithful optimism that hasn’t been felt since the Tiller era.
The only real trepidation is whether Purdue can keep Brohm in town. The more he wins, the harder that will become.
This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Reggie Hayes at firstname.lastname@example.org.