Will Fitz Coach the Cats Forever? The Northwestern Predicto
I thought of that question after soliciting feedback from the gang so there’s no profound thought piece on this below. But what would ever make him leave? I don’t think other programs ever come calling. His name never seems to come up. Yet he has pretty consistent success there, especially for a program that historically was not good save for a brief spurt in the ‘90s. I don’t think there’s much he could do other than going like 1-11 a couple times in a row to get fired. I think more likely he winds up their athletic director at some point in the Barry Alvarez mold. Only less of a dick than Barry Alvarez.
Northwestern is now an officially ranked team in the CFB playoff rankings, checking in at #25. So Purdue will have at least one more chance to notch a ranked win, which would really be something nice to add to the Brohm year 1 pelt collection. Do we think it’ll happen?
Last week, we asked if David Blough had finally, unequivocally won the QB role – and now he’s out for the foreseeable future. What is your level of confidence in Elijah Sindelar? And is it possible that the two-QB experiment having gone on so long might now wind up benefitting Purdue?
Michael: Confident enough, I guess? I don't think he'll be a disaster out there, but I really liked what Blough showed last week so although I'm firmly in Sindelar's corner long term I was looking forward to seeing what Blough would have done for the rest of the season. But given the circumstances, I think Sindelar will be fine out there. The final slate won't be too tough on him, and he's shown enough to make me think that he'll be effective. And yeah, I think this is one of the rare circumstances where 2 QB system actually worked in Purdue's favor. What are the odds!
Swamy: Sindelar is capable of absolutely gorgeous completions, like the deep ball down the sideline to Philips late in the second half. He's also completing only 53% of his passes, and has thrown some of the more infuriating interceptions of the year. I really like Sindelar's poise in the pocket, his ability to shrug off hits, and his game management while making quick short passes...but I don't trust him to run a two minute drive. It's great that he's gotten so much playing time this year, and if I had to put a bet down on Purdue's 2018 starting QB it would be for Elijah, but I'm not sure if he's all that trustworthy at this moment.
Dave: My confidence in Sindelar is that he's good enough for now. I think that the rotation earlier in the season was more about Blough not having the job 100% locked down. Brohm was more than willing to lock one guy into the QB role at WKU and leave him in there until the season was over, so the two-QB system doesn't seem to be his thing (some coaches will do it, but given the improvement that QBs get from live reps, I think I prefer the one-QB system myself). The passing game will change a little - Sindelar's sack rate is about half of Blough's, but his completion percentage is significantly lower, which is right in line with the eye test ... it would be better if we had passing stats by distance, but in lieu of that we'll have to rely on what we know about each guy, which is that neither one is going to fix the Hazell problems with the offense, and until enough Brohm guys are in place, we won't know how much of the problem is with Brohm trying to make this work at Purdue.
I don't think the rotation helped that much, though, despite the live reps that Sindelar got. I think it would be different if this were year 3 or 4, so the offense was basically an all-Brohm thing; in that case, if Sindelar had live reps, yeah, it would be a small benefit, but not enough to offset the loss of the starting QB.
J Money: Since I usually write the questions, this one comes from my own personal opinion – that I think Brohm’s two-QB shuffle will wind up inadvertently helping Purdue down the stretch here. Had Sindelar not played all season – or not since the pre-con – I think it would be hard to have any hope of a bowl. But given the reps he’s had and the comfort her has exhibited, it’s at least something worth dreaming about.
Boilerdowd: It benefits Purdue simply because Sindelar has had more reps in hostile environments. Sadly, I believe not going with one QB costed Purdue a game. So the only way it tips the scales to overcome the Rutgers loss, is to win a toss-up and one you shouldn't...I guess we'll know in a few weeks.
While a loss doesn’t mathematically eliminate them from bowl contention, we can likely all agree that this is a must-win to keep the dream alive. Will we see more aggressive play-calling and trickery or do you expect the coaching staff to stay more conservative as we’ve seen for a couple of weeks?
Michael: I don't think they'll change anything to keep a bowl game in contention; I think coaches like to call games the same regardless of record. But I do think the trend of keeping things conservative will continue. I think Brohm realized that this team doesn't have the weapons to fully implement his offense, so he's focusing on putting the offense in the best possible position to win and reducing their chances of shooting themselves in the foot.
Swamy: I'm not sure the playcalling can limit mistakes by Purdue's WR core. Brohm, as a result, has relied much more heavily on the RBs, and on Blough's running ability. That latter part of the gameplan will undoubtedly change with Sindelar under center. I think we'll see a ton of really short passes to RBs and TEs in the final three games of the season, with very rare shots downfield. Unfortunately, Purdue doesn't have the personnel to run Brohm's ideal system.
Dave: The playcalling will be similar to the last couple of weeks. Unfortunately, the key to most of the less-common plays in a Brohm offense is catching the ball, which is a big weakness for the Boilers. No sense in breaking out a jet sweep double throwback screen if it's just going to fall incomplete. It's possible Brohm may call a few more deep patterns to take advantage of Sindelar's arm, but you don't need misdirection to run four verts.
J Money: I think we will indeed see some fun stuff this weekend. Purdue is feeling good again after a win and knows that they’re a few points away (literally) from being a 6-3 team. My hope is the coaching staff has them believing they can compete with these Cats and that they inject some trickery to keep the Cats on their heels.
Boilerdowd: I think the emergence of Burgess, the deep ball catch by Phillips might give the coaches some confidence to dig deeper into the playbook and get back to some of the more aggressive play calling. The new Wildcat shift wrinkles with Sparks behind center are a bit of an indicator that Brohm, Brohm and Shepherd wanna get back to it, it seems.
Purdue wins if….
Michael: The running game continues to be a weapon, the WRs catch the ball, and the defense continues to be the best unit while holding on down the stretch.
Swamy: ...it can stop the run, and get it's tight ends going again. Methinks Herdman is Hermanns, if healthy, give Sindelar two huge targets to work with inside the red zone. Northwestern's defense might be an issue for Purdue's running game, so getting something going through the air is super important.
Dave: Purdue wins if they break a couple of long runs. Northwestern's offense is predicated on chipping their way down the field - they're 126th in explosiveness overall, 120th rushing, 126th passing. They're also far better on standard downs (41st) than on passing downs (121st), which suggests that a good part of their passing success is teams playing the run against them. If the Boilers can get a 10- or 14-point lead and force the Wildcats to play catch-up, they can sit back and let Northwestern dig themselves deeper and deeper.
J Money: Purdue scores more points in regulation. Northwestern is magical in overtime, like Iowa at home in night games or Aneesh in a tank top.
Boilerdowd: They don't let it go to overtime (NW is as magical in overtime, as David Copperfield riding a unicorn). After that, if Hunte and McCollum can both return this week, it might be enough of a boost for the defense to get back to turning teams over with great regularity. Also, the offense needs to let the run make way for the pass. That might be a tall order versus one of the conferences better rush defenses.
Final score predicto?
Michael: Northwestern 27, Purdue 23. So close, but the door all but shuts on this team's bowl chances.
Swamy: Northwestern 28, Purdue 24
Dave: I think it'll happen. Vegas likes the 'Cats, but Connelly has Purdue as a 2-point favorite on the road, which is no small feat. NU's anemic run game and Purdue's ability to bury RBs will set up a lot of second-and-long and third-and-long, which is only good if you're facing the New York Giants. DJ Knox tops 100 yards with a 63-yard sprint to the house, Ja'Whaun Bentley will get 3 TFL on doomed running plays, and Clayton Thorson (which I think means his real name is Móði) will loft one too many wounded ducks into the Purdue secondary. Bad throwin' is good eatin'. Purdue 27, Northwestern 19.
J Money: They absolutely need this one. Purdue 24, Northwestern 22.
Boilerdowd: Northwestern 28, Purdue 24.
BONUS QUESTION: Would you rather…. Win close games at NW and Iowa but lose by 40 in the Bucket game, ORRRRR…..lose close games at NW and Iowa and pummel IU? (You have to pick one, not alternate scenarios.)
Michael: I just want to have Purdue play in a bowl again...
Swamy: Five wins and the Bucket? Yes I will take this option please.
Dave: Bonus answer: Bucket. Aside from the fact that Jeff Brohm teams just aren't built to lose by 40 (remember, this team lost by 8 in Madison), despite the early-season success, this is still a free year for Brohm, so my expectations for most of the season are still lowered. IU, however, is an exception: if you fall short of your goals but beat IU, that's usually good enough for me. If you do much better than last season and lose to IU, well, that's disappointing, isn't it? Purdue's playing significantly better football than the Hoosiers right now - IU has three losses by 28+, all against top-10 teams, and remember, they played OSU even for a half - and they have some recent scores to settle. Losing with that as the background would be even more disappointing than when Hazell was here. Brohm has one of three trophies now; while we wait to play for the third, it'd be better to stay at home* and get the second than to play in a third-tier bowl and leave the Bucket in Bloomington.
*not a sure thing, since as discussed previously, 5-7 teams can still get bowl invites, and who wouldn't want to see Brohmbowlball?
J Money: I don’t think I could stomach being shellacked by IU. Not for a crappy bowl game in a place like Detroit. I hear the thinking on bowl practices and that would be great, but strictly as a fan, I want to destroy IU in Ross-Ade….above all else right now.
Boilerdowd: I'll take the IU shellacking scenario. I really want this team to have some bowl practice...win two more and that happens. Also, when the tide changes in a year or so, it'll be OK to say our Boilers are running it up as revenge.
Purdue has been beaten up badly by IU in recent history. Sure, it wasn't by 40, but a few drubbings, none-the-less. Also, there is no way in hell that IU would beat them that bad...so choosing that option is akin to me choosing to grow hair on top of my head instead of another imaginary scenario.