Purdue Football: Purdue vs. Mother Nature

If Saturday’s game was in a dome, Purdue wins by 4 touchdowns. Instead, they’ll be playing in a blustery West Lafayette featuring 30 degree weather at kick off with sustained 20 mile and hour winds and gusts up to 40 miles and hour. Purdue is better than Northwestern, but are they better than Mother Nature?

Against Iowa, Mother Nature picked up a W. I have no idea how the game ends up if the wind isn’t howling, but Purdue didn’t stand a chance with the wind. Jeff Brohm admitted as much during his post Iowa press conference, stating, “Purdue’s precision passing game struggles in bad weather.” That’s not ideal when you play in the Big10, a conference that prides itself in terrible November weather.

Despite the wind making every O’Connell pass a nerve jangling experience, Jeff Brohm couldn’t stop himself. The ball fluttered all over the field, but he still dialed up 43 passes. Not surprisingly, Aidan O’Connell struggled to complete them, going 20/43 for 168 yards and two interceptions. It was like watching a golfer pull out his driver at Pebble Beach and hit into the water over and over again, instead of grabbing an iron and working the ball low, underneath the wind. It was an impressive exercise in doing the same things over and over again and expecting a different result.

Meanwhile, Devin Mockobee averaged 4.6 yards a carry, but received 14 touches. It made no sense, and frustrated me to the point of turning off the game and doing yard work after the Hawkeyes scored their 3rd quarter touchdown. I knew there was no way back into the game for the Boilermakers. Purdue needed to run the ball early, to keep from having to throw the ball late, but for some reason, the Brohmfence wasn’t adaptable enough to take the weather into consideration.

That’s what concerns me on Saturday, and it’s the only way I see Northwestern winning this game. Purdue has to run the ball and grab a lead. If Northwestern can force an early turnover (most likely an interception) or pop a fluke big play on offense, Brohm has a history of abandoning the run when Purdue is down, regardless of the weather. If O’Connell throws the ball more than 20 times, Pat Fitzgerald will be thrilled. His defense wants no part of Mockobee. Northwestern is 118th in run defense. The only way they stop Devin is if Jeff Brohm doesn’t hand him the ball.

My biggest gripe with Brohm is his less than pragmatic play calling. Sometimes his obsession with calling “the perfect play” causes him to lose the thread. A 4 yard run on 2nd down setting up a manageable 3rd down is the perfect play, if the wind is keeping small aircraft grounded (there is a small craft advisory on Saturday). It’s not the mesh heavy passing game Brohm cribbed from Bobby Petrino, but it’s effective. Any time Purdue drops back and throws the ball on Saturday, Coach Fitzgerald will consider it a win.

Brohm has to be patient with the run game. The Wildcats stacked the line of scrimmage and made Ohio State miserable under similar weather conditions, but the Buckeye’s didn’t panic. CJ Stroud attempted 26 passes, completing 10, for 76 yards. Despite having a Heisman hopeful pulling the strings, Ryan Day leaned on his running game to score. Ohio State’s first touchdown drive consisted of 6 runs. Their 2nd, starting at the Northwestern 45, was composed of one complete pass for 12 yards, and 4 runs. The last touchdown Ohio State put on the board was a product of 5 runs and no complete passes. It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t exciting, and it didn’t help Stroud’s Heisman campaign, but it gave Ohio State the outcome it needed.

Mockobee had 28 rushing attempts against Illinois. He needs to hit that number or exceed it Saturday. Kobe Lewis and Dylan Downing need to be ready to pick up the slack when Devin gets tired. It might be a good idea to dust off Austin Burton and see if he can help in the run game as well. The wind is going to be an extra safety for Northwestern, allowing them to play tight coverage on Purdue’s short and intermediate routes. Despite his shocking scampers against Illinois, Aidan looks like his main goal any time he runs the ball is to find someplace safe to fall down, as quickly as possible.

This is a game Purdue should win. This is a game Purdue needs to win. It’s going to come down to Coach Brohm’s willingness to stick with the run, and Purdue’s ability to hit a few run plays despite the Wildcats stacking the box and begging Brohm to call a passing play. If Purdue puts 3 touchdowns on the board, and doesn’t give Northwestern anything easy, I don’t see a way forward for Pat Fitzgerald’s crew. it doesn’t matter when those 3 touchdowns occur, patience will be a virtue.

*Note: If you happened to log on at exactly the right time, you saw a version of this article saying the game will be played in Evanston. That’s obviously incorrect, and I knew it was incorrect when I wrote it, and yet, I still decided to give the Wilcats home field advantage. It’s been a long week, please forgive the mistake.

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