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Sunday, September 19, 2021

Jeff Brohm says Purdue football is ‘close,’ but close to what?

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Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm has some ideas about how to raise the Boilermakers to a more relevant position in the Big Ten West this season. He’s getting more involved with the defense and wants an aggressive unit. He said he’ll play three quarterbacks on offense if that’s what makes sense.

Brohm, getting ready for his fifth season in West Lafayette, embodies a sense of urgency in a program that hasn’t been to a bowl game since 2018.

Brohm believes the Boilermakers are close. He’s got a Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year candidate in junior wide receiver David Bell and a revamped defensive coaching staff that includes three co-defensive coordinators.

“I really feel like we’re close,” he said at Big Ten Media Days, which were in Indianapolis this year instead of Chicago. “We have been in a lot of close games without question. We’ve got to learn how to compete and finish and do a lot of small things a little bit better.”

Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm takes questions from reporters during Big Ten Media Days on July 23, 2021, in Indianapolis. (Photo/Tyler Fenwick)

Purdue started with two straight wins in a pandemic-shortened 2020 season before losing four in a row. (The other three games on the schedule were canceled.) Although skewed because it wasn’t a typical season, a 2-4 record meant Purdue has regressed in the win column every season since Brohm took over in 2017.

The combination of Wisconsin, Iowa and Northwestern has almost always owned the top three spots in the West division since the conference reorganized itself geographically in 2014. Purdue hasn’t finished better than fourth.

Voters in the annual preseason media poll from Cleveland.com picked the Boilermakers to finish sixth in the seven-team West this season.

“We need to win, and we need to win now,” junior defensive end George Karlaftis said. “How we do that is by finishing games.”

Three of Purdue’s four losses last season were a one-possession game.

Related: IU out to prove it’s a real Big Ten contender

Karlaftis, a Defensive Player of the Year candidate, anchors a defense that returns eight starters from a year ago. If Purdue is truly close to cracking the top three of the West or even competing for a division title, it will have to get more from its defense, which ranked 12th last season against the pass and sixth in rush defense.

Three offseason hires — Brad Lambert, Ron English and Mark Hagen — will lead the defensive staff, with Lambert coaching linebackers and calling plays. Brohm has been more involved with the defense this offseason and said he wants to see a more aggressive unit that takes chances.

On the other side of the ball, Bell, who went to Warren Central High School, feels the same pressure to win.

“I think we have the pieces to do it,” he said. “You know, I wouldn’t be sitting here if I don’t think we had the pieces to win.”

Bell could be Purdue’s best player. He was a one-man show at times last season without fellow speedster Rondale Moore, who was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals, averaging 104 receiving yards with almost nine catches per game.

Brohm doesn’t yet know who will throw the ball to Bell this season — or it could be multiple quarterbacks — but there are experienced and proven options in junior Jack Plummer and fifth-year senior Aidan O’Connell.

Purdue’s season begins Sept. 4 at home against Oregon State.

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.

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