REGGIE HAYES: No calming of buzz generated by Jeff Brohm’s first Purdue Boilermakers football team

Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm yells to an official during the first half of an NCAA college football game against the Michigan in West Lafayette, Ind., Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Jeff Brohm came in as Purdue University football coach, won seven games, beat Indiana, won a bowl game, reignited the fan base, declined overtures in Tennessee’s coaching search, stayed put in West Lafayette and, presumably, exhaled.

Let me emphasize: I have no proof Brohm exhaled.

Brohm has Purdue football generating a buzz among fans not felt since the peak years of the Joe Tiller era. The Boilermakers aren’t a finished product by any means, but a 7-6 record and a bowl win last season provided a springboard to offseason energy.

“I had expectations and hopes it would happen, but I’m not sure I was certain it could happen as quickly as it did,” Purdue athletic director Mike Bobinski said Tuesday at the John Purdue Club outing at Fort Wayne Country Club. “I couldn’t be more thrilled with the results one year in. That being said, we didn’t win them all, but we clearly looked like a different team, a different program.”

The Boilers did look different, from opening day when they pushed Louisville to the bowl game where they beat Arizona. Now the anticipation and expectations from fans for Purdue football in Year 2 under Brohm are more or less through the roof. Some of those are false expectations, considering Brohm still has work to do to bring the roster up to a comparable level with the rest of the Big Ten.

But there’s no turning back, no lowering of expectations now. Anything less than a repeat performance will be deemed a disappointment.

“Year 2, in my opinion, will be more difficult,” Brohm said. “We have a challenging schedule and a lot of tough opponents at home where we have to make sure we’re ready to play. We are going to have some missing pieces and some senior leaders that have departed and were really good players for us.

“But that’s going to happen every year, some years more than others, some years less,” he continued. “We understand what we have to do. It’s a matter of getting better every day with young guys who don’t have as much experience.”

Brohm’s success in Year 1 came prompted Tennessee to pursue him to some degree to jump ship after a single year. It’s instructive he didn’t. It implies he believes he can construct something special at Purdue.

In talking about his first season, Brohm dwells not on the big wins, but on the ones that got away. The Boilers lost by seven points to Louisville, eight points to Wisconsin, two points to Rutgers and one point to Nebraska.

“We had plenty of chances to win more,” Brohm said.

Bobinski has heard that comment a few times.

“He still beats himself up over some of that,” Bobinski said. “You can always do better, you can always do more. Where we sit today, we laid a great foundation in my mind. Now we have a way of carrying ourselves, a way of working on a day-in, day-out basis, a way of looking at ourselves from a possibility perspective. We’ve raised our own sights.”

While the 2018 schedule will be a challenging one, including road trips to Nebraska, Michigan State and Indiana, it also includes seven home games. The Boilers open the season with four straight home games: Northwestern, Eastern Michigan, Missouri and Boston College.

Those early games will help determine if the upswing in the program continues.

“Progress was made,” Brohm said. “Guys now believe they can win and they understand if they put in the work and put in the time, they’ll give themselves a chance. That’s all you can ask. Our guys have done everything we’ve asked. We’ve seen the progress. We just have to make sure we push forward and there is no let-up.”

Bobinski remembers the year prior to Brohm’s arrival, and the devastating losses that piled up during that 2016 season. Five losses in coach Darrell Hazell’s last season were by 20 or more points, including a 43-point loss to Maryland and a 38-point loss to Penn State.

“There was a dramatic change in competitive ability, a dramatic change in competitive attitude and fight to the finish,” Bobinski said. “All those things were dramatically different and I think that’s what our people responded to. That’s what Purdue football is all about – a team that competes and doesn’t quit on itself.”

Brohm still has work to do, perhaps a lot of work to do. Purdue will not be able to take people by surprise next season. There are question marks throughout the lineup.

“Offense sometimes takes a little longer (than defense) anywhere you go, and we try not to use it as an excuse,” Brohm said. “But it takes a little longer. Toward the end of the year, we were more productive, scoring some more points and being more efficient. We need to start there Game 1 instead of going back to the beginning or the halfway point. If we can do that, we’ll make more progress.”

Purdue announced last week it has a 130-decibel horn the Boilermakers intend to blare after touchdowns this fall. If Brohm is still moving full steam ahead this fall, fans will hear the progress loud and clear.

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 rhayes@news-sentinel.com.

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