Purdue opponents finding it difficult to keep up with Jones

Purdue receiver Charlie Jones makes it all look so easy.

The smooth transition from Iowa to Purdue, the perfect timing he's established with childhood friend Aidan O'Connell, the crisp routes, the tough catches, even the long, striding runs afterward.

It's taken the sixth-year receiver two weeks to create a home in coach Jeff Brohm's wide-open offense — while making life difficult for defenses.

“It wasn’t like we were extremely smart and knowledgeable on the situation,” Brohm said Monday, explaining how they wound up getting Jones this summer. “We had watched some quick video of Charlie and his punt returns. He was really good on special teams, but there wasn’t a whole lot of video at receiver — a few catches here and there.”

Having a chance to catch passes and break tackles was a big reason Jones joined the Boilermakers.

At his previous two college stops, Buffalo and Iowa, he was primarily viewed as a return specialist. Jones' three-year receiving totals: 39 receptions, 718 yards, six touchdown catches.

Two games with the Boilermakers, and with O'Connell as the quarterback, has completely changed Jones' reputation. He has 21 catches, 286 yards and a career-best four TD receptions in six quarters. Jones already has matched his reception total from all of last season and he's within reach of topping his 2021 total in yards receiving (323) on Saturday at Syracuse.

Jones leads the Big Ten in all three categories as well as yards per game (143.0) and he leads the Football Bowl Subdivision in receptions per game (10.5). He also ranks fourth nationally in receiving yards and is tied for third in TD receptions.

“I came here, obviously, for the offense, and I'm liking what I'm seeing so far, so hopefully get back to it this week and come out next week and execute in all phases,” Jones said after scoring three times in Saturday's 56-0 rout of FCS school Indiana State. “Definitely, it was a good move (to transfer)."

Purdue might not have known exactly what it was getting in Jones. But after losing one consensus All-America receiver, Rondale Moore, to the NFL in 2020 and another, David Bell, last spring, O'Connell convinced Brohm to take a low-risk chance on the late-deciding Jones, who entered the transfer portal May 25.

Jones announced he'd picked Purdue in early June.

The timing prevented Jones from participating in Purdue's spring practices and really doing much with his new teammates until summer camp. Yet O'Connell knew what he had in Jones because they played youth football and baseball together in northern Illinois, competed at high schools six miles apart and continued working out during the summers of their college careers.

The reunion couldn't have started any better.

In a season-opening loss to Penn State, O'Connell threw 19 of his 59 passes to Jones, who caught 12 balls for a school-record 153 yards in his Purdue debut. Jones also caught a TD pass.

“He's a great player. We knew that when we brought him here and I'm very excited he got to show it today, a lot of dynamic play-making abilities,” O'Connell said afterward. "It's fun to throw to him. He's a smart player, a good player, plays really hard. We have a lot of guys like that.”

Jones quickly stood apart, though.

While the personal connection between O'Connell and Jones almost certainly sped up the acclimation process on and off the field, Jones' new coaches and teammates could envision how Jones would fit in an offense that lost Bell and his expected replacement, Milton Wright, to academic ineligibility.

Jones made an immediate impression.

"The first day of practice I knew Charlie was going to be something special,” safety Cam Allen said. “He’ll get on your toes quick. I’m glad to have that boy on our team.”

Brohm and O'Connell aren't complaining, but finding more balance with the ground game and another legitimate receiving threat or two would make it even more difficult for opponents to keep up with Jones. That could take some of the attention away from him as the rough Big Ten matchups come in quick succession starting Oct. 1 at Minnesota, allowing him to thrive in a system where O'Connell already knows big numbers are the norm.

“I think those two have proven they can make big plays,” Brohm said. “They are a big part of the offense. Just being consistent all year is going to be the key for them — and staying healthy. Trusting what Aidan knew about Charlie was the best information we had. Aidan came through.”

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