I asked a Purdue reporter six questions...

NoelarBear

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Before every game, I’ll ask a reporter who covers the Gophers upcoming opponent to give us a view from the opponent’s perspective.

I asked D.J. Fezler of Boilermakers Country on FanNation six questions about the Purdue Boilermakers . Minnesota takes on Purdue for their Homecoming game on October 1st.

Huge thanks to D.J. for giving us his thoughts!

Follow D.J. on Twitter: @DJFezler
–> Follow Noel on Twitter: @n0elthompson


1. Purdue is coming off a successful 2021 season, finishing 9-4 overall and 6-4 in conference play. Heading into the season, what were the expectations for the Boilermakers and how would you grade them so far this season?
Coming off a historic year, one that ended in the first nine-win season since 2003, Purdue football certainly shouldered high expectations. If this team executed throughout the season and played at its peak, there wouldn't have been any reason the Boilermakers couldn't compete for a Big Ten Championship appearance coming out of a wide-open Big Ten West. However, the team hasn't had the optimal start to put itself in the same conversation with the likes of Wisconsin or Minnesota. After two last-minute losses to both Penn State and Syracuse, and its only victories being over weak non-conference opponents, Purdue has stumbled out of the gates here in 2022.

Plenty of factors have contributed to the slow start, including a pile of injuries. But self-inflicted wounds in the form of costly penalties have had a hand in the early losses. When it's all said and done, the Boilermakers find themselves at 2-2. This team could easily be undefeated, but at times has also played as if it were deserving of a 1-3 record through four weeks. Purdue has fallen below my initial expectations coming into the year, and it won't be receiving a positive grade from me a third of the way through the season.

Grade: C-

2. The good news is that star quarterback Aidan O’Connell is back from last year. The bad news is that he is without two of his best receivers in David Bell and Milton Wright. Charlie Jones, who transferred from Iowa, has been unbelievable so far this season. Jones already has 41 catches for 553 yards and seven touchdowns. How much of his performance is a surprise and what makes him such a dangerous receiver?
Charlie Jones has been an unbelievable surprise at wide receiver for Purdue football this season. The sixth-year senior grew up playing little league with quarterback Aidan O'Connell, and now the two are rekindling their childhood connection. Before his transfer, he certainly didn't have the opportunity to show this type of talent in his previous programs, but coach Jeff Brohm took a chance on him and is seeing Jones take full advantage in the 2022 season.

Jones is an All-Big Ten return specialist, with speed and quickness that translates to the wide receiver position. He is a technical route runner with great hands who isn't afraid to mix it up over the middle of the field either. He's seeing plenty of volume in a pass-heavy Purdue offense, and he'll continue to be relied on as the team's No. 1 receiver throughout the year.

3. Austin Burton got the start at quarterback last week as Aidan O’Connell missed the game due to an undisclosed injury he suffered the week before against Syracuse. How would you evaluate Burton’s performance? Do you expect O’Connell to return this week against Minnesota?

Austin Burton did a solid job against Florida Atlantic filling in for Aidan O'Connell, although there was some obvious drop-off in terms of sheer passing numbers. He completed 21 of his 29 passes for just 166 yards but threw three touchdowns in the 28-26 victory. Burton also adds an element of athleticism at the quarterback position that Purdue doesn't normally see when O'Connell is under center. However, my biggest concern with Burton leading the offense was the team's lack of explosive plays in the passing game. One of the strengths of the Boilermaker offense is hitting on high-percentage throws as a way to supplement a poor rushing attack before cashing in on big throws down the field. With Burton on the field, those deep shots weren't as prominent against the Owls last week.

As for O'Connell's availability, all coach Jeff Brohm would say is that the team will have to check on his status near the end of the week. He would not disclose what the injury was, so all signs are pointing to the star signal-caller being a game-time decision for the second straight week.

4. Could you give us a few impact players on offense and defense that Minnesota fans should know about this Saturday?
On offense, Purdue redshirt senior tight end Payne Durham is someone that has the ability to break out on any given week. He has a 6-foot-5, 255-pound frame and is a staple in this offense over the middle of the field. His best performance of the season came in the team's 32-29 loss to Syracuse where he hauled in nine passes for 83 yards and two touchdowns. He is the second-leading receiver so far this season behind Charlie Jones.

As for the defensive side of the ball, junior defensive end Kydran Jenkins is leading the team with six quarterback hurries, and three tackles for loss on the year, which includes one sack. While maybe not the greatest athlete on the field, he's done a solid job in occasional pass coverage situations. Another player for the Boilermakers that is stepping up this season is fifth-year senior safety Chris Jefferson. The defensive back has four pass breakups and two interceptions on the year, including a 72-yard pick-six in the season opener against Penn State. With star defender Jalen Graham sidelined for the past three weeks, Jefferson has played more of a role inside the box and plays with great physicality despite his size.

If Graham is able to suit up, he is the best player for Purdue's defense. The senior is a linebacker/safety hybrid that does everything that's asked of him whether it be stopping the run, rushing the passer or splitting out as the nickel defender in pass coverage. His presence is vital for the Boilermakers, but it is still unclear what his status will be for Saturday's game.

5. P.J. Fleck and Jeff Brohm both joined the Big Ten as coaches in 2017. From the Minnesota point of view, it seems like Brohm and Fleck have a little rivalry going on between each other. (The quick post-game handshake in 2019 comes to mind.) Would you or the people of Lafayette agree that there is a rivalry between the coaches? What is the general perception of Minnesota from your side?
I think it may be hard to call this matchup a rivalry when it's been so one-sided in favor of Minnesota over the years. However, I'm sure the Purdue football team and fans alike circle this game when it pops up on the schedule in hopes of getting a bit of revenge after the Golden Gophers have delivered some of the most frustrating losses for the Boilermakers in recent memory. The last three games between the two schools have ended with a one-score margin of victory, and all of them have resulted in Minnesota on top. In general, the Golden Gophers have been a wall that this team just can't seem to find a way over, but that would just make an upset victory on the road all the sweeter if the Boilermakers could pull it off.


6. Jeff Brohm is 1-4 against Minnesota since he took over Purdue. The Boilermakers travel to Minnesota looking for their first conference win of the season. What does Purdue have to do to escape Minneapolis with a win? What is your prediction for the game?
For Purdue to waltz into Minneapolis and deliver an upset victory over a ranked opponent in the Big Ten West — one that's typically been a thorn in the team's side — it will need its best players on the field. There are question marks surrounding several starters entering the game, such as Aidan O'Connell, Jalen Graham, Reese Taylor and King Doerue. The Boilermakers have also been riddled by costly penalties in its pair of losses, which will need to get cleaned up in order to have any chance against the Golden Gophers. A positive trend on the defensive side of the ball has been stopping opposing running backs, and the team will absolutely have to continue that trend against one of the Big Ten's best in Mohamed Ibrahim.

But with so much uncertainty at this point, I would be hard-pressed to find a way Purdue can pull this game out with any relative certainty. I think Minnesota is firing on all cylinders right now, and with a home crowd to back it up on Saturday, I think the Golden Gophers will take the win and the Boilermakers will fall to 2-3 on the year.


Score prediction: Minnesota 34, Purdue 23
 









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