JEFF BROHM: We’re looking forward to our homecoming weekend. As we talked about earlier, our fans have been great all year, so it’s another opportunity to get out and experience Big Ten football. Our team is looking forward to playing a quality opponent. This is an opponent that is your typical Big Ten team. They’re big, they’re physical, they’re strong, they play really good defense, they run the ball, they limit possessions, they control the football, and they try to not beat themselves.
This will be challenging for us because we’re going to have to play solid defense, take advantage of every possession we have, try to get points and hopefully touchdowns over field goals to help us figure out a way to win. But it’ll be a tough match-up that our guys are going to have to have a good week of practice and put forth great effort in order to come out with a win.
Right now we will internally name a starting quarterback tomorrow when we talk to our guys as we proceed forward through the week of practice.
Payne Durham is in concussion protocol as well as Branson Deen, and then DaMarcus Mitchell was banged up and we’ll see how he progresses this week.
Q. Just talk about Aidan O’Connell. There seems to be an intangible to him. He came off the bench against Nebraska a couple years ago, led you guys to a win, did it Saturday. What is it about his moxie or his mental aptitude that just allows him to perform well in clutch situations?
JEFF BROHM: That’s definitely Aidan’s strength. He’s got great poise. He’s got great command under pressure. He doesn’t allow anything to bother him. Normally if you came in, you throw two interceptions your first two series, it’s going to bother a lot of quarterbacks, but it does not bother him, so he’s got great confidence.
I think it’s due to he’s a young man of great faith who treats people right and does things the right way, is a great teammate, supports all of our guys on the team, including all the other quarterbacks, Jack included, and just is ready when his opportunity comes. So that’s a credit to him, his family, his upbringing and his work ethic.
Q. Any other information on King Doerue at all?
JEFF BROHM: Well, King has a medical condition that I can’t elaborate on that could affect him all year. We’re doing whatever we can to get him back. I really won’t be able to tell you more on that as far as if he can go until we get into practice week.
Q. Just talk a little bit about what you thought of Dylan Downing and Ja’Quez Cross on Saturday.
JEFF BROHM: I think our running backs are working hard. It’s a work in progress a little bit. It’s not like we have a ton of experience there right now. We’ve got Dylan Downing that’s come in and done everything we asked, works extremely hard. He’s got some physicality. There were a few times I did think he lowered his pads and got us some yards, especially on some 3rd-and-short calls that he got us the 1st downs. He can be a good blocker. Is he going to be a breakaway threat when he gets the ball? Maybe not, but he’s got to learn to just lower his pads and get positive yardage, which I think he can get better at.
Ja’Quez Cross, he’s green. He’s a true freshman who played at a smaller school in high school, and he’s shown some flashes in practice, but game speed against real Big Ten opponents is totally different, especially for a true freshman. He’s a guy that has to put on a little weight and size and mass and strength, but you know what, he ran hard, it’s just things were happening fast for him.
They’ll continue to work hard to get better. As we move forward, it’s going to be a matter of, as we enter every game, who are our best playmakers no matter what the position is, and it’s our job to get the top playmakers the ball and the others work off of that, so that’s what we’ll have to focus on and concentrate on as we proceed forward.
Q. Have you thought about moving any receiver to running back?
JEFF BROHM: Well, we’ve worked three receivers at the running back position here and there throughout camp. Last week the ones that have taken reps at the running back position have been Jackson Anthrop would probably be the first guy up, TJ Sheffield would be the next and Marcellus Moore would be after that. Really Jackson and TJ did a pretty decent job for us at receiver, so you’ve got to balance getting enough work in.
Jackson has the experience where he can double up and work both because he has experience playing the receiver position. TJ is still young and you’ve got to be careful you don’t take away too much of his receiver practice. But yes, those guys will be up, and we may have to utilize that a little bit.
Q. David Bell will be a guy that will continue to be in the protocol?
JEFF BROHM: Yeah, so we’ll continue to go through the protocol and see how he progresses, and obviously we’re always hopeful.
Q. Just talk about the three receivers who really stepped up for you Saturday: Yaseen and Milton, and obviously Sheffield scoring the TD.
JEFF BROHM: Well, Milton works extremely hard and gives us everything he’s got every day in practice. He never misses. There are some things we just need to continue to get better on of consistency and catching the football. But you know what, he did a really good job. He knows he can continue to get better, and he knows that he really now becomes our number one receiver, which is something that I’m sure he’s strived for for a long time, and he’s just got to take advantage of the opportunity, but I know he’ll put in the work.
Abdur is coming off a knee injury, and for a while didn’t feel as healthy as he liked to, so we had to adjust some things practice-wise, and sometimes he goes a day on, a day off to make sure we don’t have any flare-ups with the knee because it’s still not to that year time frame where you should be fully over. That has seemed to help, not only his knee but his mental psyche. He’s practiced well, and it’s great to see him make plays. We were hopeful that would happen, and the fact that he had to get in there and get it done and he did right off the bat, really in his first meaningful action — I know he’s played a few snaps here and there, was great to see.
Who’s the next one you wanted to ask about, TJ? TJ really has had some good practices throughout the spring, even fall camp. Had a little injury, and you know what, it took him a little while to get back going to what we saw before, which was a little concerning. But you know what, I think he’s gotten over the hump. He definitely made some really good plays. It helped his confidence. He made a big seam catch up the seam where he got his head around quick and Aidan put it right on him. Obviously he caught the slant in heavy traffic and found a way to get it in the end zone. He’s just a hard worker.
I think that once again, he possibly lost a little confidence when he was going through some — a stretch there, but he’s got it back, and we need him to have it back, and he’s done a very good job.
Q. Just to follow up on King, is it COVID related?
JEFF BROHM: No.
Q. Just with Aidan O’Connell, you seem to play faster, play with a higher tempo with him in the game. Do you believe that fits his skill set a little bit better than maybe some of your other quarterbacks?
JEFF BROHM: Well, Aidan has great poise in the pocket and great command of the offense. We’ve faced the last two weeks two defenses that have adjusted quite a bit of what they’ve done on film for us to take away the pass, to take away the deep play action shots, to force us to do some different things.
So really in some of those looks, you’ve got to be able to make the intermediate throws, and it’s important that you do that. Aidan is really good at the intermediate throws because he’ll stand in there, he’ll anticipate, he’ll throw on time. Anything that flashes in front of him won’t get him out of the pocket. He’ll stay in there to the last minute, and that’s what you have to do to play quarterback at a high level and make big-time throws, which he made really big-time throws on a couple of those. You have to be able to do that, and that is his strength.
Obviously mobility and making plays on his feet is not his strength, but he’s got to figure out a way to — two games ago on 4th and 10 he ran for 10 yards for a 1st down. He’s got to do it occasionally when we have to have that. As long as he’s able to do that, he can be effective.
His ability to grasp our offense and throw on time and hit intermediate throws is a plus.
Q. Understanding you don’t have some of your main weapons, but red zone efficiency from a touchdown perspective, you’ve settled for more field goals than touchdowns in the last couple games. As you study that, there a trend there that you’re seeing, and how do you push that forward and get into the end zone a little bit more?
JEFF BROHM: Well, it always gets tougher as you get in tighter because there’s not as many holes and windows. You have to have a good mix of run and pass, and when you do run it, you need to get yards, and when you do throw it, you need to get completions, get yards after the catch. We’ve not done a good job of that, and that’s something that of course we’re looking hard at is getting seven points compared to three.
We’ve had some turnovers in that area, which has hurt us even more, so we can’t have that.
We’ve got to be sure that that happens and that we make improvement there.
Q. As you watched the Minnesota game against Bowling Green last week, how much do you see that as an outlier for them, and what was your takeaway from studying that game?
JEFF BROHM: Well, as you’ve watched Minnesota, they’re actually probably playing better defense than they’ve ever played. They shut out Colorado, Bowling Green had 170 total yards of offense. They were up on Ohio State at half until Ohio State made throws. Ohio State wasn’t able to run the ball too effectively early on. I think they’ve only given up six plays in the running game over 10 yards through four games, which is really good to do.
They’ve done a good job. Offensively I think they’ve struggled. They haven’t had the passing game threat to go along with their running game. Their running game will always be solid because they’ve got a big offensive line and running backs, but occasionally you’ve got to be able to throw the football, and I don’t think they’ve been able to do that as effectively as they would like, and sometimes when you don’t have the lead, you may have to throw more than you need to, and if you can’t throw it, it’s going to hurt your offense.
I think that’s what they’re probably working to do is they’re playing solid defense, they’ve got a solid running game, they’ve got to get their passing game going a little bit.
Q. I think the one thing that has hurt you guys against Minnesota recently is their RPO game. Just how much do you feel like your defense maybe is better equipped to handle that this year?
JEFF BROHM: Well, I would hope we’d be much better equipped to handle it. We’ve been awful against them on offense. Two years ago their quarterback came in here and you would have thought he was Joe Montana; he completed 25 of 27 passes, and it was not good defense is a nice way of putting it.
Last year we played better against the run, but we let them throw inside fade routes all day long against us because we were schematically not covering it the way we needed to cover it.
So we’ve looked hard and worked hard at defending in general and then defending Big Ten teams, and then of course every week and throughout the summer you take a team and you figure out how to defend them.
Hopefully we’ll have a better plan. Then we’ve got to go execute it. But it all starts with stopping the run, and ours starts with loading the box, so when you do that, you are going to be a little more susceptible, but you have to be cognizant of the dip of the run and then raise up and throw it, and the guys who haven’t been up to the line of scrimmage have to be able to get their hands up and get in lanes with the secondary up close enough to be able to react to that. We’re playing so deep because we’re scared of the deep ball that we can’t get to that.
A lot of things have to happen, but we have to be sound. Of course they’ve been very good at it and they’ve scored way too many points on us in the past.
Q. If you don’t have Branson, how do you foresee that rotation at defensive tackle working? As you mentioned Saturday, you feel like you still have pretty good depth there?
JEFF BROHM: I think on the defensive line and the linebacker position we have a lot of bodies, especially on the defensive line. We’ve had a lot of guys that have played football that we feel can go in there and do a good job for us.
I do think Lawrence Johnson had his best game to date this past game, really stood out, got off blocks much more than he had in the past, played hard. Branson Deen was playing very good. He’s got some quick twitch and can get off blocks as well and use his leverage to do that. So he had been playing well before the injury.
So those two guys were our top ones in the interior, so yeah, losing Branson if he’s not able to play will hurt us, but we have a lot of other young men that have gotten in there and played, and I think they’re getting better due to the fact that they’ve played quite a bit.
Q. I think you just preempted my first question. It seems like Lawrence Johnson has taken a big step. Where is he different this year?
JEFF BROHM: Lawrence works very hard. He cares about our program and Purdue being from Fort Wayne. He wants to make a name for himself and for his family and represent those guys in the right way. He’s had an off-season — he had surgery on a hip that he hurt in the spring that he’s had to overcome, and I think he’s now feeling much better and able to play, and he plays hard.
I just think because he’s played with great effort, Coach Hagen has done a great job of teaching him all the things that he needs to learn to improve his game, and he wants to win. So when you have a guy that is in state, he cares, he wants to win, is going to give you great effort, he’s played a lot of football, so he’s been through some good times and some bad times, I think he wants to make a name for himself, and I’m hopeful that he continues to build on that because the offensive line we’re going to face is going to be really big and strong, and we’re going to have to be really good up front. Our defense is going to have to play well.
Q. You’ve had a couple games now, Oregon State and Illinois, that were hanging in the balance in the third and fourth quarters. Your team obviously did what it needed to do defensively and offensively to get those done. Do you see anything about this team this year that they’re finding ways when they need to?
JEFF BROHM: To this point, yes. Now, as you guys know, we’re starting the meat of the schedule, and we’ve got a lot of tough opponents. We still have a lot to prove, and we have to work hard to get better because that’s going to have to happen in order for us to win.
The fact that we have won some close games is a huge plus, and I don’t know if we would have won those in the past. I do think having three elements, offense, defense, special teams that have all played an important role and can do their part will help us win, and I think we’ve got the building now if we continue to work that we can try to just play sound in all three of those segments and then somehow just get a slight advantage, we can have a chance to win in the fourth quarter if we’re tough enough to hang in there and play to the end.
This past game for sure tested us. A lot of guys had to hang in there and just believe that they could get it done, and a lot of guys stepped up and did that. So that’s always a positive.
Our team knows that starting this week against Minnesota and continuing through the rest of the year, there’s a lot of tough teams on our schedule and we have to work hard to get better to give ourselves a chance to win.
Q. How has their run game changed since the injury in game one? Now they’ve got another guy that’s running at 140 yards a game the last three games. Are they doing anything different than they did against Ohio State?
JEFF BROHM: Well, the one running back unfortunately that got injured was a really talented running back, played a lot of football, he was dynamic. Boy, he ran hard. I mean, he was really good.
Now, they’ve got other good running backs. I don’t know if they’re to that level, but they have other good running backs, and the offense is built to hand them the ball behind the big offensive linemen and control the ball, play good defense and pass it when they have to.
It’s going to be important to us that we figure out a way to get a lead and make them do things that they’re not as comfortable doing, and if we can do that, that will for sure help us. If we cannot do that, we will have to scratch and claw all game long to find a way to get it done.
Q. With your punting game, what Jack did Saturday, was it just him being simple and kind of in your words, catch it and kick it?
JEFF BROHM: I would hope that’s what it was. Jack, like we’ve talked about before, has done really good in practice, so just carrying it over to the game, that’s what we needed to see. So yes, it’s a matter of simplifying things and getting him to believe that he can get it done, and playing more confident, and it was good to see. Now he’s got to continue to do that.
But he puts in the effort. He puts in the time, and he does care. I’m hopeful that he can continue to take that game even to a higher level.
Q. I think every offensive lineman, you only played five, they played every snap of the game. Just talk about that, maybe why Cam Craig wasn’t able to get in.
JEFF BROHM: So I think you’ll see Cam Craig in there more this week. Cam has had some small injury issues that we’ve been dealing with and hasn’t been able to do as much as we would like. We’ve been repping him both at guard and tackle.
I think we feel comfortable with six, but no, Cam did not get in there this past week. As we evaluated the video, going into this week’s practice, the plan will be for Cam Craig to play.
Now, he’s got to practice well and go through the series of steps to get to that point. If he does that, I think for sure he’ll be in there.