WEST LAFAYETTE – In a spring game that meant nothing in the record book and everything in tone setting, Jeff Brohm went with his nature in his Purdue public coaching debut.
No, it was not the pass.
It was the trick play.
OK, actually it was a trick trick play — the Boilers faked a flea flicker and ran the ball on the third play of Saturday's spring game — but that misses the point, which is Brohm will do the unexpected in his quest to restore success to the program.
"We like to run flea flickers," Brohm said, "so we said, what the heck let's run the fake one. I’ve never seen it done before, but it looked like it worked pretty well."
That matters now, with Purdue lacking depth and experience on the offensive line, and at receiver, and it will matter later when the talent and experience are more to Brohm's liking.
At the moment, it is not.
“Definitely on offense, but on both sides of the ball,” Brohm said, “it's going to have to be a full, all-out hammer job by all of our coaches and players to find a way to get it done.”
Hammering will come with innovation. Brohm has built his reputation on keeping defenses guessing, with trick plays a big part of it. Boiler defensive players already know all about it.
Take defensive lineman Gelen Robinson.
"Those trick plays challenge all of us. Last year I was more of an end so I would be the one spying for the throw backs and (quarterback bootlegs) and reverses.
"In my position now, I don’t have as much pressure on me, but there is a lot of pressure on however has contain. We know they will run trick plays."
On a sun-splashed Saturday afternoon at Ross-Ade Stadium, the Boilers gave their first indication of what Brohm's first Gold and Black season will look like, with the No. 1 offense going against the No. 1 defense, and the No. 2 offense facing the No. 2 defense.
The defense beat the offense 45-30 in a modified scoring system in which turnovers, defensive stops and three-and-outs warranted defensive points. That continued a spring-long pattern in which the defense out-played the offense.
For the record, it was just a beginning and not a final product, which if you are an offensive line fan, is a good thing because the line, protecting the quarterback (they were sacked 11 times on Saturday) and overall blocking remain a work in progress.
No one understands that better than Brohm, who built an offensive juggernaut at Western Kentucky and could very well do it at Purdue once all the pieces are in place and the offensive system fully engaged.
For now, “We have to find ways to create more depth, get guys better on the field where they're understanding things and playing fast,” Brohm said. “We're going to have to be creative in what we do on both sides of the ball."
Saturday's creativity came early on offense. Busted coverage helped receiver Jackson Anthrop turn a short swing pass from quarterback David Blough into a 69-yard gain that led to running back Richie Worship's 2-yard touchdown run. Blough later connected for 33 yards with Gregory Phillips, who won the one-on-one battle with a defensive back.
Anthrop later scored on a 19-yard TD pass when the defense didn't bother to cover him.
Quarterback Elijah Sindelar showed his big arm by connecting with Terrance Landers for a 53-yard completion. Third-string quarterback Jared Sparks, who has played a lot of receiver this spring because of a lack of depth at the position, had a big throw to Tyler Hamilton and showed impressive mobility.
Sparks, in fact, made a strong bid to move up the quarterback ladder. At the least, coaches will have a package for him to run next season to capitalize on his dual-threat ability.
Overall, Blough was 14-for-22 for 192 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. Sindelar was 14-for-25 for 177 yards and no interceptions. Sparks was 9-for-18 for 106 yards and an interception.
Phillips was the top receiver with six catches for 74 yards. Landers had five catches for 93 yards. Jackson had two catches for 84 yards.
Tario Fuller was the top rusher with 41 yards on five carries, an 8.2-yards-per-carry average.
Still, the defense ruled on Saturday.
It produced six first-half sacks, two by linebacker Rob Simmons. Robinson recorded one of those sacks to help the defense force a first-half three-and-out series. Linebacker Danny Ezechukwu showed impressive speed in running down Anthrop to prevent a touchdown. Cornerback Da'Wan Hunte had a nice pass breakup in the end zone.
Then there was the botched snap and Sindelar fumble to open the second half that quickly gave the defense five points for a turnover and a lead that kept growing.
Defensive end Kai Higgins, a junior college transfer, had three sacks on Saturday. Robinson had two sacks, as did linebacker Rob Simmons. Safety Andy Chelf led with nine tackles, plus recovered a fumble. Linebacker Markus Bailey had six tackles.
Kickers J.D. Dellinger, Myles Homan and Noah Brunner combined to make 3-of-4 field goals. Dellinger had the miss, and it came from 48 yards.
“We learned a lot this spring,” Brohm said. “We got better and found out what we can and can't do, which is important. We realize that come this season we have a lot of work ahead of us.”
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