What was once an entertaining football series between the University of Wisconsin and Purdue has turned into a one-sided affair.
Coach Jeff Brohm is trying to change that, and early indications suggest he’s on the right path as Purdue (3-2, 1-1 Big Ten Conference) gets set to take on No. 7 UW (5-0, 2-0) at Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
For starters, this will be only the second time since 2006 the Boilermakers will enter a game against UW with a winning record. Purdue already has matched its win total from last season with seven games remaining in the regular season.
Brohm went 30-10 in three seasons at Western Kentucky before he took over a once-proud program that had fallen on hard times since a successful run under the late Joe Tiller in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
This was the challenge facing Brohm when he arrived at Purdue:
• Ten consecutive seasons without a winning record in Big Ten play.
• A 3-30 mark against conference foes over the previous four seasons.
The series with UW offers a perfect illustration of Purdue’s fall from grace.
From 1998-2003, five consecutive games between the programs were decided by seven or fewer points. Purdue had won back-to-back games in the series when it hosted UW in 2004 and was on its way to extending that streak, but Badgers cornerback Scott Starks scooped up a Kyle Orton fumble and returned it for a touchdown to help erase a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit.
That 20-17 victory was the first of 11 in a row over the Boilermakers for the Badgers. UW’s average margin of victory during the streak is 23.7 points.
The first order of business for Brohm, who was considered a home-run hire by Purdue, was to change the culture of losing. He said Tuesday on the Big Ten coaches teleconference that one of the things he noticed upon arriving in West Lafayette was that players “were lacking some confidence in their ability.”
Fast forward to Purdue’s season opener against Louisville at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. The Boilermakers led 14-10 at halftime and, when Brohm arrived in the locker room at the break, he couldn’t help but notice a group of believers waiting for him.
“You would have thought our guys won the Super Bowl they were so happy,” Brohm said. “That was actually encouraging, even though I knew it was a problem because we still had 30 minutes left to play.
“It was encouraging that they felt good about themselves, they realized that, ‘You know what, maybe I can do this. Maybe we are better than we thought or what we have been in the past.’ ”
Purdue ended up losing to Louisville by a touchdown, but it bounced back with routs over Ohio and Missouri to end non-conference play. After dropping a 28-10 decision to Michigan in their Big Ten opener, the Boilermakers rallied to beat visiting Minnesota 31-17 on Saturday.
One of the things that made Brohm such a popular hire was his offensive background. Western Kentucky ranked sixth, third and first nationally in three seasons with Brohm at the helm, finishing in the top 10 in both passing offense and total offense in each of those seasons.
Brohm was a star quarterback at Louisville and spent seven seasons in the NFL. His younger brother Brian also was a star at Louisville and was selected by the Green Bay Packers in the second round of the 2008 NFL draft; Brian Brohm now serves as Purdue’s co-offensive coordinator.
Purdue is third in the Big Ten in passing offense with 265.2 yards per game. Brohm uses a two-quarter system — he rides whoever has the hot hand — and both players, junior David Blough and sophomore Elijah Sindelar, are in the top 10 in the Big Ten in passing efficiency.
“It’s truly an offensive system, where everything kind of complements each other,” UW coach Paul Chryst said. “I think they do a good job of making you have to defend the whole field. I think obviously they do a heck of a job of coaching, because to get that type of execution and what looks to be understanding in a short time, it’s impressive. …
“It’s not a bunch of different plays that are being run. It all packages together. I think that’s what makes it hard to defend.”
Purdue’s defense has had its moments as well, including in the win over Minnesota. The Boilermakers turned the ball over four times in the first half, but the Gophers’ lead was only 14-6 at the break.
“I’ve been saying it all year — I love how this team fights,” Sindelar said after the win over Minnesota. “We fought to the end.”
What impressed Brohm the most was the resiliency his team showed against Minnesota. The Boilermakers trailed for 41 minutes, 17 seconds of the game and fell behind 17-16 when the Gophers made a field goal with 2:26 remaining, but Purdue answered with a quick score and put the game away when Ja’Whaun Bentley returned an interception 76 yards for a touchdown with 10 seconds remaining.
“Only if you have resiliency and you kind of believe in yourself a little bit and believe in your teammates and stick together can that happen,” Brohm said. “For our guys to do that, it was a tremendous victory for our football team and I’m hoping we can build on that.”