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Behind Enemy Lines: Talking Purdue Football With Hammer and Rails

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Check out their site for all things Purdue.

NCAA Football: Purdue at Illinois Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

As we march closer to the beginning of the season, BCI is interviewing various opposing writers about their teams. Today we talked to Travis Miller, who writes for Hammer and Rails, the SBNation Purdue site. Check out their site, and check out Travis and their main account on Twitter.

BCI: What a turn around for the Boilermakers from 2016 to 2017. What has Jeff Brohm changed in the program that led to this drastic change?

Hammer and Rails: Oh my, there is so much here that has changed. The largest thing is that the school itself has made a renewed commitment to building the football program. Our previous athletic director, Morgan Burke, was in office for over 20 years when he stepped aside just before the 2016 season. He was known mostly as a bottom line guy. As the department was in the black, that was the most important thing. It led to a pretty steady decline from the heights of the Joe Tiller era. By 2015 we had the worsted facilities in the Big Ten (without even lights at our stadium), a terrible coach with an albatross of a buyout, and horrendously bad recruiting. A decade of complacency had made us a laughing stock.

Then Mike Bobinski came along. He finished the $65 million performance facility that Burke started in his final year and has reorganized much of the athletic department. Instead of relying on Big Ten money to pay the bills he has been forward thinking with much of the behind the scenes stuff in terms of promotions and the way things are run. It has paid huge dividends throughout the athletic department.

He also hit a clear home run with Brohm. There is no question that Darrell Hazell was a disaster. We spent $18 million plus for 9-39 over four seasons, and four of those wins were over FCS teams. Brohm came in and immediately turned things around. We were 7-6 last year and you could argue we were about 2 plays from 9-4 (a 2-point loss at Rutgers and a 1-point last second loss to Nebraska). He won with Hazell’s players (Hazell often recruited in the 65-75 range nationally) and he has already improved recruiting. His first class (partially done by Hazell) was 68th in 2017. His second class in 2018 was 49th and this year’s class is already 19th.

A prime example of this is the recruitments of Coy Cronk and George Karlaftis. Cronk was a 4-star offensive tackle at Lafayette Central Catholic HS across town. Hazell never offered him, despite needing a tackle at the time, and he ended up being a freshman All-American in 2016 at Indiana. Fast forward to now, where Karlaftis is a 4-star defensive end with offers from Alabama, Michigan, and Miami at West Lafayette HS. He was the first player Brohm got for the 2019 cycle, committing even before the 2018 cycle was done. Both players were guys that play high school football within 5 miles of Ross-Ade Stadium.

It says all you need to know about the difference between Brohm and Hazell.

BCI: Do you predict it is going to be QB by committee again in 2018? If not, who do you think will be starting?

H&R: It is hard to say. Both quarterbacks are coming off of a season ending injury. David Blough had surgery for a dislocated ankle suffered against Illinois. Elijah Sindelar played the final 4.5 games of the year on a torn ACL. They both had their moments last season, too. Blough has more experience and was the better guy in the first half of the season, but you can’t deny what Sindelar did to close the year.

I am normally not and advocate for a 2 QB system. We did it in 2011 and 2012 and it did not work well. Somehow, Brohm made it work last year. Based on the way he closed last year I would probably give the edge to Sindelar if he is healthy, but if Blough wins the job I wouldn’t be surprised. He could have grad transferred anywhere for his final season and he decided to stay on. Both have their strengths. Sindelar has the bigger arm, but Blough is more accurate. Sindelar is the bigger pocket passer while Blough is much more mobile. In the end, Sindelar is more the type of QB Brohm is looking for in his offense and has another year he cane play in 2019.

BCI: This is BC’s first matchup against Purdue in the two programs history. Tell our fans a little about a memorable moment or two, and why Matt Ryan is a better QB than Drew Brees.

H&R: I was blessed to be a student when Brees was there and it was magical. In October 2000 he seemed to pull off miracle after miracle. He beat Michigan 32-31 after trailing 28-10 at halftime. He blasted a Northwestern team in Evanston that later shared the Big Ten with us. He won in overtime at Wisconsin when we blocked a field goal and returned it for a touchdown during the only overtime possession. Then there was Brees-to-Morales against Ohio State.

Brees is pretty much a deity in West Lafayette now. He has personally donated more than $3 million of his own money back to the program and a few weeks ago even bought a game-used John Wooden jersey just so he could make sure it stayed in Mackey Arena forever. If that breaks the curse for our basketball team and we finally make a Final Four (or win a natty) I am considering that yet another miracle performed and we can canonize him. You guys are Catholic. How many miracles does it officially take for sainthood?

BCI: What are some reasonable goals for this upcoming season?

H&R: I would like to win 7 regular season games and another bowl game. We haven’t won 8 games since 2007 and haven’t won 9 since 2003. As far as 10-win seasons goes, we have one… in 1979. We have to rebuild much of our defense, but we have a fully armed and operational Brohmfense now. If we’re going to sling it all over the field and start dropping 45 points on people with impunity I think I can live with a defensive dropoff.

BCI: Who is one Purdue player that mainstream people might not be aware of, but will be on their radar by the end of the season?

H&R: Linebacker Markus Bailey. He has been great the last two seasons and will move into the middle this season after Ja’Whaun Bentley was drafted by the Patriots. He has been our most active linebacker and he even has 7 sacks and 5 interceptions in his career. He has to break in a pair of new linebackers around him, but he is going to be the leader of the defense now.

BCI: Hollywood producers are going to make a movie on Purdue football, who would play Jeff Brohm and who would play Purdue Pete?

H&R: I think Brohm looks a bit like a young J.K. Simmons. As for Pete, let’s resurrect Heath Ledger and put him in the head.

BCI: It’s an away game for BC this year, what are some must see spots/restaurants/breweries that our fans should hit if they travel to West Lafayette?

H&R: Here you go. We have a complete game day guide for you. We also do a weekly Friday Drankin’ reviewing local Indiana brewing in prep for that week’s game.

BCI: What is the craziest or most unique Purdue tradition (football or non-football)?

H&R: Definitely had to be Breakfast Club. Students pretty much dress in different costumers before each home football game and hit the bars as early as 7am. We also have the Purdue Grand Prix, a go kart race every year in April that runs opposite Indiana’s Little 500.

Those bastards are more famous because they got a crappy movie out of it, but our go karts are faster.

BCI: It’s summertime. What is your beer and song choice for this summer?

H&R: This summer I am a big fan of Bell’s Oberon. There are a number of new breweries where I live in Indianapolis I need to get to though. As for music, I am the dad to a 5-year old and I just had foot surgery. I am about as far from popular music as possible. I thought Arianna Grande was a new drink at Starbucks and didn’t hear of Despocito until the Grammy’s. I will be going to see Avenged Sevenfold in August though.

BCI: Final question: Pick a GIF that best describes how you envision Purdue’s season going this year.

H&R: Can we do this one without Hazell?

Fine, I like this one.