As college football season draws ever-closer, we’re running down Indiana’s schedule to preview its opponents for 2023.
The Old Oaken Bucket rivalry enters a new chapter this year, as Purdue hired Ryan Walters as its new head coach following Jeff Brohm’s departure for Louisville. Indiana won’t be too upset to see Brohm go — Purdue defeated IU in four of the five games during his tenure. Walters brings Big Ten experience, serving as Illinois’ defensive coordinator for the last two years and turning the Fighting Illini into one of the top defenses in the country.
- Opponent: Purdue
- Date/Time/TV: Saturday, November 25, TBA
- Location: Ross-Ade Stadium, West Lafayette, Ind.
- 2022 record/postseason result: 8-6, 6-3 Big Ten, lost to LSU in the Citrus Bowl
Returning production, offense: 71 percent (per Bill Connelly/ESPN)
Offensive outlook: Walters hired Graham Harrell as his offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, after stints in the same role at North Texas, USC, and West Virginia. Purdue, under Brohm, was a pass-heavy offense, and Harrell is set to bring a similar style to West Lafayette.
He’ll lean on a new Boilermakers quarterback, as Aidan O’Connell graduated. Purdue brought in redshirt junior Hudson Card from Texas out of the transfer portal and will hope he can thrive in a new situation. He played in 12 games for the Longhorns last season, with three starts, but faced a limited path to playing time behind Quinn Ewers. But Card was a four-star and a top-100 recruit in the class of 2020, per 247Sports, which also ranked him the No. 17 overall player in the transfer portal this offseason and the third-best quarterback.
Redshirt sophomore running back Devin Mockobee enjoyed a strong debut season in black and gold, finishing 11th in the Big Ten with 1,242 all-purpose yards. Even in a pass-heavy offense, he’ll be a key weapon for the Boilermakers. And if Mockobee can take steps forward in his game, he could be one of the top running backs in the Big Ten.
PU lost top receiver Charlie Jones and tight end Payne Durham in the offseason. But redshirt senior TJ Sheffield is back after posting 480 yards and four touchdowns on 46 receptions last year. Redshirt sophomore Jahmal Edrine is an intriguing transfer portal addition from FAU, where he caught 39 passes for 570 yards and six touchdowns last season. The Boilermakers don’t have an obvious excess of depth at receiver, but there are some options with potential. Redshirt senior Garrett Miller suffered a season-ending injury during fall camp last year, but he’s back to take over at tight end in 2023.
Pro Football Focus graded Purdue’s offensive line ninth in the Big Ten in both pass-blocking (50th in the nation) and run-blocking (71st). The Boilermakers have three returning starters on the line. PFF ranked senior center Gus Hartwig as the 24th-best center in the nation last year.
Returning production, defense: 59 percent (per Bill Connelly/ESPN)
Defensive outlook: Purdue’s defense finished in the bottom half of the Big Ten in scoring and yardage allowed last season. Walters will try to have the same effect on the Boilermaker defense as he did on Illinois’. He brought Illinois assistant head coach and outside linebackers coach Kevin Kane with him to West Lafayette to be his defensive coordinator.
The Boilermakers have just four returning starters on defense. Three of those players finished in the top five tacklers on the team — senior safety Sanoussi Kane (No. 1), fifth-year senior safety Cam Allen (No. 3), and redshirt senior linebacker OC Brothers (No. 5). And senior outside linebacker Kydran Jenkins is back after Purdue with eight tackles for loss last season.
So Walters had a lot of open spots to address. And he went to the transfer portal for several of them. Graduate student defensive end Isaiah Nichols started all 12 games at Arkansas last year. He’s joined on the line by redshirt senior Jeffrey M’Ba (Auburn transfer) and graduate student Malik Langham (Vanderbilt). The Boilermakers also added a pair of upperclassman defensive backs in the portal, in redshirt senior Marquis Wilson (Penn State) and graduate student Salim Turner-Muhammad (Stanford).
Walters and Kane had tremendous success at Illinois, but it could take a bit to get Purdue there. There are a lot of new pieces on the defense, and the returning players are adjusting to a new system.
Returning starters, special teams: punter Jack Ansell, kick returner Deion Burks
Special teams outlook: Ansell averaged 42.7 yards per punt last season, good for 10th in the Big Ten. He wasn’t used very often, with just 3.9 punts per game ranking 10th as well. Kicker Mitchell Fineran is gone, so redshirt senior Ben Freehill steps into the role. Burks, a redshirt sophomore, was one of many players who chipped in on kick returns, but he led the team with 14 returns. He averaged 19.9 yards per return last year. With Charlie Jones gone, TJ Sheffield may step in and handle punt returns.
Overall Outlook: It’s difficult to know exactly what to expect from Purdue this season, with so many new pieces and a new coach. The offense seems to have real potential if Card pans out, Mockobee takes a step forward, and the offensive line holds up. If the 37-year-old Walters lights a fire into his defense, Purdue could sneak up on some teams this year. But if it takes a while for the Boilermakers’ defense to come together and become a more effective unit, they could have trouble getting to a bowl game.
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