Brohm liked Purdue's play in non-conference play: 'Very, very good'

Stacy Clardie, GoldandBlack.com staff
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Purdue is entering the “meat” of the schedule now, Coach Jeff Brohm says.

Not that he’s discounting the Boilermakers’ non-conference schedule, which featured a ranked team at a neutral site and an SEC team on the road. But Brohm knows Big Ten play truly is what matters and where his team, likely, will find out what it’s made of.

But Brohm did learn some things about Purdue during the non-conference portion of the schedule and, for the most part, he largely what pleased what he saw in a 2-1 start.

“I like the first three games,” Brohm said Monday during his weekly press conference. “Our players have done everything we’ve asked. They’ve worked hard. They’ve competed during game day. They’ve showed a competitive spirit throughout the game, and we’ve played hard. We’ve played tough. For the most part, we’ve played smart. So those are key things that you try to build on.

“We’re going to have to build on it. I think to this point, they’ve been very, very good. I’m proud of the effort and where we’re at. I think they are hungry for more. That’s all you can ask for.”

Through non-conference play, Purdue ranked in the top half in the Big Ten in most major categories, whether it be scoring offense or passing offense or turnover margin. But here’s perhaps the most impressive statistic so far — even if it doesn’t put the Boilermakers among the Big Ten’s best: Through three games, Purdue’s defense allowed an average of only 129.7 yards rushing. Last season, opponents average a whopping 238.4 rushing yards per game.

That remarkable 100-plus-yard difference in average can be attributed to Purdue’s front seven, which has gotten solid play from its interior linemen especially as well as playmaking from its linebackers, which boasts two of the top three tacklers on the team.

“I think the defense has done a good job,” Brohm said. “Even with my history and the defense we've run in the past, that's what we try to build ourselves on is stopping the running game. We've traditionally been pretty good at that. … It's worked good. We want to make teams beat us passing the ball.”

Mostly since he got to Purdue, Brohm has been vocal about his thoughts that the defense would be able to hold up this season — though he still has questions about the depth. It’s been the offense, for which he is the play caller, that he’s heaped many more expectations on. And, in a way, he’s been harsher on that unit, even though it’s put up points and yards at a good pace so far this season.

But Brohm has been quick to call that unit a work in progress — and, to be fair, Nick Holt has said the thing about his defense early in the year. He still liked some elements in the first three games, though, saying the quarterbacks have gotten better since training camp, the running backs have been “solid” and he’s seen improvements at receiver. There are strides to be made up front, especially in pass protection, Brohm said, but he sees a young group there that’s growing each week, too.

“I don’t think I’ve seen a lot of performances a lot better than I was thinking we were going to have,” Brohm said of the overall offense, “but we’ve been solid and played up to our potential. We’ve just got to push the envelope even farther.”

Some of those next steps on offense include creating more explosive plays and finding more “dominant” playmakers, Brohm said.

“We’re probably picky on it,” Brohm said of how he views the offense. “If we can get our guys to all know exactly what to do, to be able to have quick recall when they think of a play that’s called and be able to react, we’ll have a better chance. Right now, we’re still doing some small things here and there that if we can try to eliminate them, it will help us be more consistent.”

It’s not just Xs and Os and improved position groups that stuck out, though, in non-conference play.

Brohm’s priorities have been on intangibles: Effort, playing smart, playing tough and fighting until the end of games, to name a few. In those areas, he’s been pleased with the production.

But with the 2-1 start, he may need to throw another into the mix: Managing expectations. Purdue officials are expecting a sellout Saturday when No. 8 Michigan comes to Ross-Ade Stadium. The Boilermakers are underdogs, but Brohm and his coaching staff will be believing they can win, just like he wants the players to do. But handling “success” hasn’t been something Purdue has to do much of lately.

“Every week, it’s about trying to raise your level of play. If you’ve played good the week before, that’s great. But now you’ve set the bar a little bit higher and you have to go out and try to improve upon that. We try not to worry about the score. We kind of let our actions and play take care of itself and then look at the score at the end and see if we’ve won or lost,” Brohm said. “For three weeks, the effort that we want to see and the desire and the competitive spirit, we’ve won that battle. That’s the most important thing. But because of it, our guys have realized, hey, if you do those small things, you can be in the games and have a chance to win.

“Even way back when I got here and I looked at the teams we’re going to play, I looked at the Big Ten, me being an outsider brand new to the conference, there were about four teams in the Big Ten when I was watching, I was like, ‘They’re really good.’ All the others were somewhere similar. It was just a matter of who was going to play hard and who was going to play to the end and finish for 60 minutes and really want to win. So I thought we can be in most games and you never know.

“Week 1, we probably played a little bit closer than a lot of people thought, and I think our guys gained some confidence. We came out in the second week and had a good showing and then the third showing against a good opponent on the road, we raised up to the challenge, and they did a very good job. So our guys are feeling it right now. They’ve worked hard. They’ve put in the time. But they’ve played hard. They’ve done the small things to this point. We tried to improve every week. So that has been good because we’re going to need it because now we face one of those four teams that I mentioned that is very good.”

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