Tennessee-Purdue Music City Bowl: 7 Questions From A Boilermaking Expert

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The Flights drew Purdue to their Music City Bowl clash, and I think the pairing is pretty apt given the context of each team’s season.

Both teams finished halfway in pretty solid conferences – Tennessee gets a nod for finishing 7-5 overall and 4-4 in the ever-intimidating SEC. But then Purdue has two dubs against the top 25 teams to go with their record of 8-4 (6-3 in conference) while the Vols have only one. It’s fair to say that both programs have been able to squeeze their way into the squads this year: UT is aiming for eight wins after scoring three last year, and Purdue already four times as many wins this year than last season.

I’m definitely not familiar with Purdue – or any Big 10 team for that matter – and thought most of you probably aren’t either. So I contacted Travis Miller, the manager of the Boilermaker site of SB, Hammer and rails, for a crash course from Purdue.

1) Jeff Brohm led Purdue to quite a season this year. An 8-4 record (6-3 in the conference) must have been a breath of fresh air, given that Purdue was 6-12 in the past combined seasons after a 13-13 aggregate record after the first two years.

How nervous had Boilermaker fans become and how far away was Brohm from the hot seat this preseason? Has this year silenced the critics?

I don’t think it’s ever been too hot, mainly because we’re paying him so much money. I thought it would take something catastrophic for him to be fired this year, but there was definitely a feeling that the progress of those first two seasons had stalled. The 2019 went off the rails with injuries, including starting quarterback Elijah Sindelar (who was scorching at the time) and Rondale Moore losing for the season on the same game. Purdue likely doesn’t have 4-8 if they stay. in good health.

Then you have last year, which was really weird for everyone. Until early October, it didn’t even look like there would be a season. Purdue was absolutely deprived of a victory at Minnesota on a terrible call, and that has chickened the team for the last two games. I don’t think we can get much out of that year for anyone. Indiana in the top 10 teams? This is how you know it was weird.

This year was definitely a surprise. Purdue was infinitely better in every phase. Defense kept us in the game from the start as the offense struggled. Then Aidan O’Connell caught fire in the second half and we started scoring over 30 points per game. It was the first season since 2006 that Purdue has won eight regular season games, and he truly outscored Minnesota in a loss. We just couldn’t finish driving this game. It was a lot of fun.

2) The more I examine Purdue, the more impressed I am. This 8-4 record is pretty solid – I just don’t see any “bad” losses. 6-3 in a good, but maybe a bit heavy, Big 10 is solid, and if I calculated correctly, the combined record of the four teams that beat the Boilermakers (our Lady, Ohio state, Wisconsin, Minnesota) at 37-11. These two victories against the top 25 teams (Iowa, Michigan State) also stand out.

So what clicked? How did you go from six wins in the last two seasons to a nine-game winning season with a top 50 attack (by away footballer) and a top 30 defense?

Yeah, and really Ohio State is the only team that beat us outright. Wisconsin and Notre Dame were just a possession game in the fourth quarter before spiraling out of control late in the game. Against Minnesota, Purdue threw the decisive interception inside the 20 as he headed for the tie.

The rest was fun. Purdue was dominant against Iowa and the State of Michigan. We successfully beat the teams we needed to beat, which had been an issue under Brohm (who lost to Rutgers twice, Eastern Michigan, Nevada and a bad Nebraska team). There were many other milestones to be crossed. 49-0 victory at UConn was our first road shutout in 40 years. Rank 25e after beating Iowa, it was our first top 25 in 14 years. We also won four real road games for the first time in 78 years. I knew we could be a bowl team, but 8-4 was a really pleasant surprise.

What worked was Aidan O’Connell took the starting job after the offense struggled in the opening games and the defense did a good job all year. It was excellent against the pass and, for the most part, gave Purdue a chance every week. If the offense hadn’t struggled so hard in the first five games, we might even have beaten Minnesota and Notre Dame. The defense flourished with George Karlaftis demanding so much attention and the offense was very diverse in the air.

3) Last question which is sort of centered on the schedule: This Illinois game looks a little suspicious. The wins all count the same, but the 13-9 home score against the 5-7 Illini caught my eye. What happened? Was it just a bad game?

That was when the offense really struggled and we scored exactly 13 points four times in five games. Jack Plummer, a longtime starter, moved the ball, but didn’t finish practices. Aidan O’Connell came on to provide a spark and immediately threw two interceptions, but led the winning drive in the dying minutes (his fourth drive of his career).

If you look at the Illinois season, that’s pretty much what they did to everyone too. They loved to engage in ugly defensive struggles and hoped their meager offense could do just enough to win. It worked against Minnesota and Penn State, but not against Purdue, Rutgers and Maryland.

4) WR David Bell and EDGE George Karlaftis will not star in this one after declaring for the NFL Draft. What did they bring to the table?

Bell is just a complete receiver. Rondale Moore was excellent. He was a guy who could turn any five-yard loss into a 60-yard gain. He was pure electricity. Bell is just a complete receiver in every aspect and worthy of his All-America honors. He’s a good size, plays the ball in the air very well, has good hands, blocks, runs perfect routes and just opens up. He needs 21 yards to be our yardstick in a season, and that’s after missing the game against Illinois with a concussion. He has all the tools to have a long NFL career as a possession catcher.

Then there is Karlaftis. The statistics are not catchy, but they hide a lot. It requires a double team or even a triple team on almost every game. he just draws Warning with each click. It doesn’t show up in the stats sheet, but when you have two or three guys paying attention to him it makes it easier for the defense because now they’re playing 10v9 or 10v8. If anything, I wish Purdue had been a little more consistent on the other end of the line to take advantage of that.

5) I guess I’m in the majority here with the Tennessee fans because I haven’t seen a live Purdue game yet this year. Hit us with a few impact players on either side of the ball, and if you don’t mind … sum up … Purdue’s offensive and defensive plans and / or approaches.

Catcher Milton Wright did a great job being Robin in Bell’s Batman. He had a 200+ yard, 3 TD game against Northwestern at Wrigley Field and was near or over 100 yards on several other occasions. Jackson Anthrop is also a fan favorite. He is a 6e a guy of the year who grew up in West Lafayette and had a brother who played basketball for us and another who was a catcher. Your typical old 2 star does it all. He lines up in the lunge, returns the kicks, returns the punts and even came out of the backfield here to provide a spark in our horrible running game. This is his last game in his career and he will be missed.

Defensively, Jalen Graham has been very good as a hybrid DB / LB all year round. He had a huge pick-6 in Nebraska and was really good in the middle of defense. Cam Allen and Marvin Grant were also very good and controlled things in the middle of the field. Again, this is largely down to what Karlaftis is doing.

6) What can Tennessee do to slow Aidan O’Connell and the Purdue offensive?

Well, O’Connell is on a radiator right now, but earlier in the year he really struggled with interceptions. His first significant action was to try to ignite the offensive at Notre-Dame in the 4e quarterback and he threw two picks. He had two against Illinois, one against Minnesota plus a fumble and three against Wisconsin. When they come, they come in clusters. He hasn’t pitched one since the Wisconsin game, so you could argue he’s due. In addition, it is not mobile. At all. Like, Peyton Manning looks like Lamar Jackson next to him. He rushed for an 8-yard TD in the Iowa win and I was shocked.

I am also worried because our racing game is not good. It worked against Indiana because Indiana had marked their season a long time ago, but we have by far the Big Ten’s worst rush game. Part of the reason is that our starter Zander Horvath missed several games with a broken leg, but most of the time that’s not a factor. The 150 or so yards against Indiana was 15% of our season’s total.

7) Let’s lose money! The betting line for this game looked more like a seismographic readout – Purdue opened as a 2.5-point favorites, quickly moved on to favor Three-point Flights, and is now anywhere in a push. at -4 for Tennessee. So if you are a bettor, where do you rest your money? Also, if you like predictions, please let us know as well.

** Note: This answer was provided before the Karlaftis and Bell news broke, but the answer is still very relevant. **

A lot of it depends on Bell and Karlaftis. I think the offense can cope if Bell is absent, but that’s not ideal, especially with two promising young receivers looking good at the start of the year to Abdur Rahmaan-Yaseen and Mershawn Rice. Karlaftis does so much work for us defensively that I’m worried if he’s missing. You have a really good offense, and if he doesn’t do what he’s doing, you have a really big advantage.

I think we are seeing a shooting. A lot of Purdue fans remember what happened the last time we played in Nashville. They still clean the blood from the stadium after what Auburn did to us three years ago. We don’t want to embarrass ourselves anymore. I think if Bell and Karlaftis sit down you win easily. If they play, we can have fun 35-31. Dealer choice over the winner there.



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