As Elijah Sindelar started to throw the ball more on Saturday, he started to get more comfortable.
And so that might be the game plan going forward, said Coach Jeff Brohm during his press conference on Monday. Early in the 23-13 loss at Northwestern on Saturday, Purdue stuck to the run, trying so on first and second downs of its first two drives. But the Boilermakers were forced to punt after three-and-outs — they did so too on the third drive — and fell behind early, eventually 20-0.
But when the Boilermakers opened up the offense in the second half, they at least somewhat responded. In the final 30 minutes at Northwestern, Purdue scored a couple touchdowns, with Sindelar hitting for 265 yards on 34 pass attempts. In the fourth quarter alone, he had 191 yards while hitting 16-of-23 throws.
But Purdue also trailed, necessitating an increased workload for the passing game as it tried to rally. As a result, Purdue got more production from its perimeter skill — Jared Sparks and Jarrett Burgess combined for 195 yards on 16 receptions on a touchdown — showing an offense that is closer to what Brohm envisions.
“We would like to be wide open and be on the attack,” Brohm said. “I think that in the middle of the year we struggled in the passing game and we had a lot of drops and were able to run the ball a little bit better, so we kind of went that direction. With David (Blough) we went that direction a little bit (and) we had some success. I think now that Elijah is back in there, it may have to be a little bit more back to the passing game.
“I think without question we'd like to be diverse and throw the ball around quite a bit. Maybe not quite as much as we did in the second half, but I do think that we kind of just went to our base passing game and we had some success with it. Yes, we'd like to spread this thing out and be on the attack and figure out ways to score points. We've kind of gone back and forth with some of the things that have gone on during the year, and we've got to just be more consistent at what we're doing.”
In his first start back as Purdue’s No. 1 — Blough is out after having surgery Tuesday to fix his dislocated right ankle — Sindelar finished 37-of-60 passing for a career-high 376 passing with the two touchdowns and an interception.
He gained six yards rushing, as Purdue lessened its reliance on the zone-read that had been productive with Blough. The Boilermakers still ran the scheme occasionally but success was limited, and there were a couple times the read should have called for Sindelar to keep, but he handed off instead.
It, and the lack of running game in general, might have contributed to a slow start by the QB, Brohm said.
“We tried to be more balanced and run the football and maybe just throw it when we had to. He was not as sharp doing that. Once we started to open it up and throw the ball a lot, then I think he was able to get in a rhythm. That's more of what his strength is.”
• Tario Fuller is having surgery on his ankle Nov. 20 after suffering a bone bruise against Missouri in Week 3.
The sophomore, whose 261 rushing yards led Purdue after the first three games (and is still second on the team), has been out, briefly dressing for the Rutgers and Nebraska games but not playing.
• Brohm said he “totally disagreed” with the non-grounding call in the game Saturday, when the umpire said that Clayton Thorson only threw the ball out of bounds from inside the pocket because the defender (Rob Simmons). “It was the action of the defender that caused the pass to go that way,” the referee said.
It was a bit of an unusual description.
“I thought it was obvious grounding,” Brohm said. “The explanation in my opinion was not a good explanation, that they thought the hit affected where he threw the ball. I saw someone on his lower leg, so I didn't see the same thing. It didn't go our way, and you've got to react, but I thought it was grounding.”
The play was a third down, so Purdue go the ball after a punt, yet the Boilermakers lost potentially significant yardage on the non-call.
Purdue made second-half changes to two of its four positions in the secondary against Northwestern.
Tim Cason replaced Josh Okonye at cornerback to start the second half, then Simeon Smiley supplanted Navon Mosley at safety. The Boilermakers played more man against the Wildcats they typically do and had issues.
“We were not effective in it as much, and we've got to learn how to be more physical, challenge things more,” Brohm said. “I didn't think we got our hands on guys. Nowadays in football, especially college football, they're going to let you hold and grab and do all those things. We've got to utilize that. I thought we were too soft in man-to-man. We weren't nearly as physical and aggressive. We tried to just change things up.
“If one guy is not playing up to what we feel he should be playing, we'll rotate that a little bit, and we did. We've still got a ways to go in pass coverage, but I think we should and can get better.”
Okonye, who had played well in the first half of the season, has struggled in coverage the last couple weeks. In the two-minute drill to end the first half, when Northwestern drove 96 yards for a score, Brohm said the senior turned his back in a Cover 2 and gave up a fade.
“When all he's got to do is keep his hips open to the quarterback and he'll there to make the play,” Brohm said. “I think he'll bounce back. He's played solid for the most part all year. I think he's just got to get his confidence back, and we need him in there.”
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