Purdue still seeking punch in the rushing attack
Jeff Brohm said time and again entering the 2020 season that a major goal of the offense was to improve the ground game. So far, Purdue hasn’t been able to reap the fruits of its offseason labor.
As Week Five dawns, the Boilermakers sit last in the Big Ten in rushing, averaging 63.7 yards. And Purdue’s average of 25.0 carries a game also ranks last, along with its one rushing TD.
What’s the issue?
"Well, I just have to do a better job of it," said Brohm. "We've got a lot of coaches. And they know that that's kind of what I've been telling them all offseason and all season, that we've got to make sure we have a commitment to the run. But at the same time, when it gets to game time and things aren't going you have to be able to adjust and do what works."
The line play needs to improve. Brohm has said he’s pleased with the depth the unit has developed, sometimes playing as many as 10 linemen in games. This past Saturday vs. Northwestern, the Boilermakers played eight linemen. And Brohm anticipates playing that many this Friday when Purdue (2-1) plays at Minnesota (1-3) at 7:30 p.m. ET on BTN.
"I think we'll work hard this week to get better and we'll do some different things to make sure that we have a base of what we're doing but a plethora of things that we can do to help our o-line play efficient and well," said Brohm.
The good news for Purdue: It's gonna face the worst rushing defense in the Big Ten at Minnesota. How bad? The Gophers rank last in the league vs. the run (238.3 ypg), allowing 7.2 yards per carry and a conference-high 13 rushing TDs.
Purdue needs some semblance of a rushing game to attain offensive balance. Without it, the Boilermakers will struggle to beat the teams--even ones whose rush defense is as generous as Minnesota. That was evident on Saturday night in Ross-Ade Stadium.
Purdue ran 17 times for just two yards in a 27-20 loss to Northwestern. It was the Boilermakers’ first loss of the season. And it was costly, as Purdue now is looking up at Big Ten West front-runners Northwestern (4-0) and Wisconsin (2-0).
"There were couple times that we really couldn't create movement, and that was a problem," said Brohm about the line vs. Northwestern. "And there were some other times when we did. One guy didn't do his job and it affected the play. So, it's just a combination of a few things. Like I said, I think I probably got off the running game a little too soon. We were just being stalemated there early on. And I felt like we needed to be aggressive and score points.
"And I think we'll work hard this week to get better and we'll do some different things to make sure that we have a base of what we're doing but a plethora of things that we can do to help our o-line play efficient and well."
Zander Horvath has been the bell cow at running back, carrying a team-high 53 times for 252 yards (4.8 ypc) and a TD while also being a top threat as a pass-catcher. In fact, vs. NU, Horvath made nine grabs for 100 yards—both career highs.
But the junior needs help. Sophomore King Doerue made his 2020 debut last week vs. Northwestern, but he had just one carry for no yards as he comes back from a hamstring injury.
"King's been injured the whole time all season," said Brohm. "So this really was the first game back. And even with that to say he was 100 percent, I wouldn't go that far. But he's close. And I think this week he'll be much closer to getting there. But when guys aren't able to practice, they're not going to play well."
Could redshirt freshman Da'Joun Hewitt or true freshman Tirek Murphy get carries for the first time?
"Both those guys are making progress," said Brohm. "Tirek had been injured, as well, and he's coming back from it. We think he has a bright future. But to throw him in there against a very good opponent, we'll see and pick our spots. I think Hewitt is another guy that's on the verge."
And the play of Horvath has made playing time hard to come by for others in what typically is a one-back scheme.
"The issue is Zander has been playing well," said Brohm. "Zander has been able to carry the load and he's done a good job. So we've got to spell Zander more, but we want to make sure that when we're doing that we still feel very good about the preparation time that all of our guys have had going into the game.
"But, yes, that would be the best outcome is to get more guys involved in the running back position."
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