It’s officially the football off-season, some teams are celebrating great seasons while others are stuck licking their wounds and mending their broken pride. Regardless of how the 2021 season ended, all 14 Big Ten teams must put it in their rear view mirror and look forward to the 2022 season. There have been coaching changes, outgoing and incoming transfers, players leaving for the draft, new schemes, and new expectations. The off-season allows fans to dream of a successful 2022 campaign, and it’s up to each individual program to make that a reality.
While that process has started for the teams, as fans, we are beginning to ask the questions that programs need to answer to be successful. So that’s exactly what we’re going to do at Land-Grant Holy Land; Five Questions for each B1G team to answer this offseason.
In 2021, Purdue had one of their best seasons of the last 20 years winning nine games for the first time since 2003. They finished the season tied for second in the Big Ten West with a 6-3 conference record.
En route to their best season in years, the Boilermakers continued the trend of upsetting teams in the top three of the AP rankings by taking down No. 2 Iowa and No. 3 Michigan State.
Unfortunately, they fell short of their goal of winning the Big Ten, but if they hope to reach that goal in 2022, they must answer these five questions this off-season:
What steps need to be taken to develop a running game?
Purdue was one of the worst running teams in the nation during the 2021 season. They averaged just 84.2 yards per game and a whopping 2.79 yards per carry, which put them at 127th out of 130 total FBS teams.
Frankly, it’s a wonder that they had any success at all with their inability to run the ball. The Boilers’ running game was so bad that their best offensive strategy was to drop back and throw the ball 50-plus times per game.
And, to be fair, that worked last season, but if Purdue hopes to have any sort of sustainable success in 2022 and beyond, they will need to figure out their running game this off-season.
Who will step up to replace David Bell?
Purdue’s one-sided offense largely thrived due to game-changing wide receiver David Bell. Bell has been Purdue’s best offensive weapon for years, culminating in a major 2021 season which saw him named a consensus First-Team All American and the Big Ten Wide Receiver of the Year.
Bell stepping up was a major achievement for a Purdue program that lost Rondale Moore and does not usually stock offensive talent like the country’s more explosive powers. So, losing Bell will be hard to recover from, but the Boilers will need to find playmakers if they hope to improve on their 2021 season.
Is there someone on the roster to fill Bell’s very big shoes, this off-season will go a long way to figuring that out.
Can Purdue improve on defense while replacing George Karlaftis?
While Purdue was one-sided on offense, they had an average defense that was able to keep them in many games, or at minimum could be relied upon to occasionally get a stop allowing the offense a chance to win in a shootout.
In 2021, Purdue was led by potential first-round pick defensive end George Karlaftis. Karlaftis, like Bell, is headed to the NFL Draft and Purdue will need to figure out how to replace his production.
This fall, the defense will have to improve in order to compensate for any potential step backward taken by the offense with the departure of their star receiver. Replacing a potential first round pick is never an easy task, but head coach Jeff Brohm will need to figure out how to do that on both sides of the ball or risk halting all momentum gained from 2021.
Will Aidan O’Connell improve on his 2021 campaign?
Fifth year senior Aidan O’Connell had the best season of his lengthy career in 2021 throwing for 3,712 yards and 28 touchdowns. Due to the extra covid year, O’Connell announced that he will be back for his sixth and final season of eligibility this fall. O’Connell’s return is major for Purdue who was at risk of losing their top quarterback, wide receiver and defensive end.
If Brohm and the Boilermakers hope to contend for the Big Ten West in 2022, they will need O’Connell to take a step forward. Quarterback is the most critical position in football and the equalizer when it comes to other deficiencies on the team; a better O’Connell can help cover for losing Bell and Karlaftis and potentially could even land him on NFL scouts’ radar.
This offseason will be crucial to figuring out if O’Connell can take the next step in his development.
What effect will the staff turnover have on the roster?
Due to their success in 2021, Brohm’s staff lost four coaches to other jobs and a fifth to retirement. In the hopes of keeping some level of continuity, Brohm promoted David Elson and Ryan Wallace to linebackers and tight ends/offensive line coach respectively.
His outside hires consisted of Garrick McGee and former Buckeye Ashton Youboty to wide receivers and cornerbacks coaching positions. This is a lot of turnovers for a team coming off of its best season since 2003.
Given all of the changes on the roster and coaching staff, one might think that they are due for a major regression to the mean, so it will be up to this staff to make sure that that is not the case.