Purdue football coach Jeff Brohm has spent all season searching for different ways to improve his team’s woeful pass defense.
It won’t get any easier when the Boilermakers (1-3, 0-1 Big Ten) play Saturday at No. 12 Penn State (noon, ESPN). Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford was named co-Big Ten offensive player of the week last week after throwing for 398 yards and three touchdowns during a 59-0 rout of Maryland.
Purdue ranks last in the Big Ten in pass defense, allowing 296.5 yards per game. During Purdue’s 38-31 loss to Minnesota last week, in which quarterback Tanner Morgan completed 21 of 22 passes for 396 yards, Brohm benched starting cornerback Kenneth Major, replacing him with redshirt freshman Cory Trice.
Brohm said the competition for all starting positions in the secondary was open this week, with Trice and redshirt freshman Jordan Rucker pushing sophomore starters Major and Dedrick Mackey at the cornerback spots.
“It’s important that we open things up and we allow guys to have an opportunity to play and compete and see where they are at,” Brohm said at his weekly news conference. “There are some young guys that need to play more, need to see exactly what they can do for us.”
Brohm said the coaching staff also will examine the scheme the Boilermakers are playing in the secondary and will make adjustments if needed.
“I want to challenge routes,” Brohm said. “I mean, way too many open guys down the field. Way too many guys not being disruptive at the line of scrimmage. Way too many huge holes in the secondary, and sometimes it’s not all them.”
Penn State (4-0, 1-0), led by speedy sophomore receivers KJ Hamler (16 catches, 353 yards, three TDs) and Jahan Doston (10 catches, 163 yards, two TDs) has shown the ability to exploit breakdowns in the secondary throughout the season.
“We have to be sound in what we’re doing,” Brohm said. “We have to make sure that our guys understand exactly where we need them to be and how to play it. We’ve got to make sure that when we’re playing press coverage, we’re not allowing receivers to be free and untouched the entire time we run the route. We have to disrupt it. We have to disrupt the timing.”
Brohm said Pudue’s safeties also need to step up. Redshirt junior safety Simeon Smiley was whistled for a critical (albeit questionable) pass interference on third down in the closing minutes against Minnesota. Had Smiley not committed the penalty, Purdue, down 38-31, would have gotten the ball back with a chance to tie.
“They play a role,” Brohm said. “I think that linebackers play a role. To a certain degree, the D-Line does, but we have to shore up our pass defense, and that’s been an issue for a while. We need to — it needs to start this week, and it’s going to be a tough week to start it against a very good football team that’s had a lot of success.”