With an abbreviated 2020 season set to start this weekend for the Big Ten, the Purdue Boilermakers look to improve on an up and down 2019 season.
Despite a 4-8 record on the year (3-6 in the Big Ten), Purdue was much more competitive than the number suggests. On top of wins against Vanderbilt, Maryland, Nebraska, and Northwestern, the Boilermakers also suffered a one-point loss to Wisconsin and one-score losses to Minnesota, Indiana, and Iowa. Even though they could not get it done in the end, Purdue never went down easy against better teams, taking it down to the wire against some big-time opponents. At the time of their 25-24 loss to Wisconsin, the Badgers were No. 12 in the country.
David Bell enjoyed a stellar freshman campaign, catching 86 passes for 1,035 yards and 7 touchdowns. Unfortunately, Bell was not able to fully mesh with Rondale Moore, who’s season was ended prematurely due to a leg injury. In 2018, Moore caught a total of 114 balls for 1,258 yards and 12 touchdowns. If Moore can bounce back, the duo of Moore and Belle could be one of the very best receiving tandems in the country.
The biggest wrench in the possible dynamic duo of Moore and Belle is whether the Boilermakers will be able to find a quarterback who can settle into the role. While Purdue’s passing game in 2019 was subpar. This year, it remains to be seen who will be the starter (the team has said they will not reveal the starter until Saturday), but it is likely that it is a three-way competition between sophomore Jack Plummer, junior Aidan O’Connell, and UCLA grad-transfer Austin Burton.
Plummer and O’Connell started six and three games, respectively, in 2019, but Burton could provide some much-needed consistency. In an offense with such an electric receiving group, consistency and decision making could be the name of the game for the Boilermakers over the mobility that Plummer brought to the table last season.
In terms of the run game, Purdue will return their two-best running backs from last season, King Doerue and Zander Horvath, who combined for a total of 828 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground. After a last-place finish in Big Ten rushing in 2019, the Boilermakers will need to improve their offensive line’s efficiency to be competitive in such a tough conference.
Defensively, new coordinator Bob Diaco will look to fix a team that allowed an average of 436 yards a game in 2019. Despite the abysmal numbers, Diaco has a decent amount of talent to work with. Freshman All-American George Karlaftis will be a force on the defensive line, looking to build off a 7.5 sack freshman season. On top of that, the Boilermakers welcome back fifth-year defensive tackle Lorenzo Neal, who missed all of 2019 while recovering from a knee injury. At 6-3, 315 pounds, the big man will provide some much-needed size at the defensive tackle position. Cory Trice will also be one of the shining stars for Purdue, and the 6-3, 215-pound corner will continue to show big-play ability in coverage.
Overall, if Diaco’s defense can improve and the Boilermakers find some rhythm at quarterback, Purdue could be a force to be reckoned with in the Big Ten. They will surprise some people this year. They may be bowl-eligible when it is all said and done given their talent, especially in terms of big-play receivers.
2020 Record Prediction (Big Ten): 5-3
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