Michigan and Purdue haven’t met since 2012. But that’s only part of the anticipation leading into this Saturday’s game in West Lafayette. The eighth-ranked Wolverines remain unbeaten through the first three games of the season; Purdue, in a change from recent years, isn’t far behind.
Under the stewardship of new coach Jeff Brohm, the Boilermakers are off to a 2-1 start. They narrowly lost to then-No. 16 Louisville, 35-28, in the season opener, before beating Ohio, 44-21, and Missouri, 35-3.
Their early play has certainly captured the attention of Michigan — especially defensive coordinator Don Brown.
“They’re running the ball pretty good, they’re doing running backs by committee, they know what they’re doing up front in terms of the blocks and the concepts they’re trying to run,” Brown said. “Couple that with they’re gimmick crazy. … So obviously that’s gotten our attention and our discipline, and they throw the ball very well, which is (Brohm’s) history. They’ve played extremely well here early in the season.”
While Purdue’s offense has garnered most of the praise, the defense has improved steadily since last season. In 2016, the Boilermakers allowed 38.2 points per game, which ranked No. 128 in the nation. This year, Purdue has given up just 19.7 points per game — good for No. 43.
Senior linebacker Danny Ezechukwu has been a pivotal part of those efforts, currently leading the team in tackles-for-loss and sacks with three and one, respectively.
The Daily talked with Ezechukwu at Big Ten Media Days in July to discuss his team’s new attitude, changes in defensive scheme and Brohm, a cult figure among die-hard college football fans.
Q: You’ve seen (David Blough) since he got here to Purdue, and the quarterback’s always going to be a leader on the team, but it seems like he’s taken some really big strides, and it showed today.”
A: Man, David been a grown man since he stepped on this campus. Like, he doesn’t get distracted by anything. David came here to play football and get a world-class education. He’s been that way since he got here. Like on his visit, he didn’t want to go out — he wanted to be in the drawing room, in the film room, playing football. He’s been that way since he got here. I’ve learned a lot from him. I look at him as a leader even though he’s younger than me. I feel like a lot of guys look up to him. He’s a voice in the locker room, he’s a voice on the field, he knows what everybody’s supposed to be doing on the offensive side of the ball, from the protections to the routes, to everybody’s first step. He’s a leader, man, and he’s been that way since he got here, and all the success and the accolades he’s getting right now are no surprise to me or him.
Q: Why is this year going to be different for Purdue football?
A: I feel like it’s going to be different for Purdue football. The primary reason being we’re attacking. We’re not reacting. The film study that we take in, we’re taking in and we’re predicting, ‘Okay, this is what we’re going to do.’ It’s not, ‘In case they do this, this is what we’re going to do.’ We’re not waiting and counterpunching. We’re out there attacking like teams have been attacking us. We come out here and that approach only lasts so long until adjustments have to be made after the first half. We’re coming at you. We’re not waiting for you to hit us and then we have to make a change on the fly. … That attacking, downhill sort of play, that’s what you’re going to see a lot of from the defensive side of the ball — and the offensive side of the ball, because they’re going to be moving like this (snaps fingers) and it’s really going to help everybody.”
TMD: Does that mentality translate to a more aggressive scheme in terms of more blitzing?
DE: Yeah, we’re probably going to be coming a whole lot more from depth as far as corners, safeties, nickels, linebackers. It’ll probably be a lot more blitzing. The coverage scheme will probably be a lot more sound, a lot simpler because we’re bringing pressure and we’re expecting (the quarterback) to get the ball out faster so (defensive backs) are going to know exactly where they need to be to make plays on the ball. So it’s going to be a fun time, man, and Purdue fans can look forward to it.
TMD: A lot of other players here have talked about how difficult it is to defend RPO. When you’re going up against that every day in practice, how does that help you adjust to it?
DE: It doesn’t make it any easier. It’s all a feel thing — it’s an instinctual thing. You’ve got to be able to react, and you’ve got to be able to react fast. It is what it is. It puts you in a bind because you have to respect the run, but then you’ve got to react to the pass and rally to the ball. Football’s getting way more innovative with all these smart minds coming to the helm. You see we just got Coach Brohm, and Minnesota got PJ Fleck. So, you know, things are about to get crazy up here in the Big Ten. You’ve just got to be able to react and try and dictate the pace, because if you try and sit there and react, it’s not going to work.
TMD: In spring ball, did Coach Brohm install anything to the offense that made you step back and say, ‘Wow, I wasn’t ready for that’?
DE: They had some intricate ways of running the ball. They had some really intricate ways of running the ball that have been unusual. That’s the type of stuff you’ve got to do.
TMD: You guys haven’t played Michigan since 2012. Is there anything in particular you’re looking forward to when playing them this year?
DE: I’m looking forward to their smashmouth, pro-style way of football. I think that kind of plays into our hands, honestly. I feel like we’re built for that and I’m excited to go against it.
TMD: And lastly, there’s this famous video of your new coach where he has this phrase, he yells, ‘Street fight between the whistle.’ Have you seen that at all?
DE: I have not, man. I don’t think we’ve been around Coach Brohm long enough to pick up on any of his phrases. But I’m looking forward to it. I can imagine him saying something like that, I really can.