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UConn football opponent preview: Purdue

A Purdue team that recently had some notable UConn ties will be visiting Rentschler Field in September.

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NCAA Football: Music City Bowl-Auburn vs Purdue Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Purdue is a perennial Big Ten cellar-dweller that might be a mid-tier team this year. The Boilermakers are not likely to make any serious waves nationally but still should challenge UConn when they travel to Rentschler Field on Saturday, September 11 at 3 p.m. for the Huskies’ third game of the season. It will be the first-ever meeting between these two programs.

Purdue’s over/under for wins this year, depending on your source, is around five. I’d imagine the oddsmakers will have them heavily favored against UConn, even on the road.

We hope you’re enjoying our football season preview series, which just kicked off position previews with the quarterbacks. For a look at UConn’s earlier opponents:

Head Coach & Recent History

Jeff Brohm has been head coach at Purdue since 2017, the same year UConn hired Randy Edsall. Brohm started his tenure with a 7-win season and a bowl victory. The program has only had one season with seven or more wins since winning eight in 2007.

Brohm was getting a lot of hype immediately and quickly became a candidate for head coaching openings before earning an early contract extension from Purdue. However, things have not been so great for them since then. Purdue went 6-7 in 2018, 4-8 in 2019, and then 2-4 in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.

Before this year, Brohm’s coaching staff had some familiar names. Former Husky head coach Bob Diaco was the team’s defensive coordinator last year and former UConn defensive coordinator Anthony Poindexter was co-DC and safeties coach from 2017-2020. Poindexter is now at Penn State in the same role he had at Purdue. Diaco got fired, for the fifth time in five years.

Former Husky Tyler Coyle also played for Purdue last year before signing with the Dallas Cowboys as an undrafted free agent. Current Purdue long snapper Nick Zecchino is a former Husky walk-on from the Class of 2016 who joined the Boilermakers in 2019.

Syndication: Journal-Courier Nikos Frazier / Journal & Courier via Imagn Content Services, LLC

2020 season

Despite going 2-4 on the season, the strength of Purdue’s Big Ten-only schedule and the fact that three of the losses were by a touchdown or less earned them high efficiency ratings, ranking 61st in the country in F+ for the year, 37th offensively and 75th defensively.

The 2020 Boilermakers won their first two games, over Iowa and Illinois, before losing to Northwestern, Minnesota, Rutgers (ew), and Nebraska. This is not exactly a murderers row of Big Ten opponents, but in the words of Tom Dienhart from the Purdue Rivals site, Bob Diaco’s defense was “a big reason why the team finished 2-4 and lost its last four games.”

Dienhart pointed out that in those last four games, the defense gave up conversions on 49% of third downs and only tallied one takeaway and two sacks. After getting fired by Purdue, Bob Diaco has been fired after three one-year defensive coordinator stints and one outside linebacker gig. Purdue has also had three defensive coordinators in as many seasons.

Offensively, Purdue averaged 27 points and 391 yards per game but it didn’t help their cause that starting quarterback Aidan O’Connell missed the final three games of the season with a foot injury. Jack Plummer, no relation to Jake, filled in admirably but it looks like it’s O’Connell’s job going forward.

Wide receiver David Bell racked up an impressive 625 receiving yards and eight touchdowns in six games. Alexander Horvath was the team’s leading rusher and also a prolific pass-catcher, running for 400 yards and gaining another 300 through the air.

Speedy receiver Rondale More had over 300 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown before becoming a 2nd-round NFL Draft pick by the Arizona Cardinals. Leading tackler Derrick Barnes was also a draft pick, going in the 4th round to the Detroit Lions.

NCAA Football: Iowa at Purdue
Purdue quarterback Aidan O’Connell.
Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

2021 outlook

Given Brohm’s history and the bad luck that impacted previous seasons, optimism is pretty high around the fanbase for this year’s Boilermakers.

They return a bunch of key talent, especially offensively, including O’Connell, Bell, Horvath, Milton Wright, who was the team’s second-leading receiver from last year, and three interior linemen who were named to PFF’s All-Big Ten preseason team.

Edge rusher George Karlaftis was the only Purdue defender player highlighted by the PFF team. But the unit is also returning its most disruptive player from last season in defensive end Demarcus Mitchell (6 TFL, 1 sack).

This game against UConn will be Purdue’s second contest of the season, after opening up at home against Oregon State. After the UConn game, they’ll be traveling to meet their in-state rivals at Notre Dame, so big trap game potential for them against the Huskies, maybe.

Prediction

My run of pessimism continues, but ultimately Purdue looks like a pretty decent team. I don’t think they’ll have any trouble scoring against UConn and even though their defense may be a relative weakness, the Husky offense would have to have a newfound potency to score enough to win this game. Purdue 34, UConn 20