Purdue seeking bigger, better results in Brohm’s 2nd act

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              FILE - In this Dec. 27, 2017, file photo, Purdue quarterback Elijah Sindelar throws against Arizona during the first half of the Foster Farms Bowl NCAA college football game in Santa Clara, Calif. David Blough returned from surgery in time for spring football, a recovery he hopes will be enough to win back the starting job. Sindelar went 3-1 after replacing Blough and despite playing the final 3 1/2 games with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. He didn’t participate in spring practice and is only now starting to round into form. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)
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Jeff Brohm set a high bar with his opening act at Purdue.

He ended the Boilermakers‘ bowl drought, recaptured the Old Oaken Bucket and the program’s sudden revival helped produce the highest average attendance gain in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

Now, after receiving a two-year contract extension and a pay raise, the second-year coach is ready for an encore performance.

“I think they believe we have improved, I think they firmly believe we’ve made strides,” Brohm said in Chicago late last month. “And I know that they’re encouraged with the progress we made.”

Who wouldn’t be confident after watching the Boilermakers win seven games in 2017 after winning only nine in the previous four seasons combined?

Now fans expect more, even if Brohm needs to change the script.

Last year, he relied on a senior-dominated defense to keep games close enough to give the Boilermakers a chance. But with seven defensive starters graduating, the offense may move into the feature role.

Fortunately for Purdue, that’s where Brohm excels.

He came to West Lafayette with a penchant for leading high-scoring teams, willing to run risky plays that will make the game fun to watch and play.

So far, quarterbacks Elijah Sindelar and David Blough like what they’ve seen in practice.

“We’re going to stretch the field a little bit, and I think it’s going to open up a lot more when we can throw it down the field,” said Sindelar, who started the Boilermakers’ last four games after Blough dislocated his right ankle. “We’re starting to understand what the coaches are looking for on each play call. So when Coach Brohm calls a play, we kind of have it in our mind what he’s thinking.”

If all goes well, Brohm could accomplish a rare feat — produce a sequel that does even better at the box office than the original.

“Purdue football is excited to be in the mix, and we’re excited that the expectations have risen,” Brohm said. “But I think our players will respond.”

Here are some other things to watch this season:

CRADLE OF QUARTERBACKS: Blough returned from surgery in time for spring football, a recovery he hopes will be enough to win back the starting job.

Sindelar went 3-1 after replacing Blough and despite playing the final 3½ games with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. He didn’t participate in spring practice and is only now starting to round into form.

But the battle for the starting job is anybody’s guess at this point. While Blough has more experience, Sindelar has the bigger arm.

“I think Elijah did a good job and got the ball up the field,” Brohm said after last weekend’s intrasquad scrimmage game. “I thought David did a good job as well, had his moments but made some mistakes. A few times, he didn’t cut the ball loose and put it on guys.”

RECEIVING HELP: The biggest question on offense might be who Blough and Sindelar will be throwing to.

Last year’s starters, Anthony Mahoungou and Gregory Phillips, completed their eligibility. That leaves sure-handed Jackson Anthrop as the only returnee with more than 40 receptions last season.

Yes, the Boilermakers have a deep, experienced crop of tight ends. But the Boilermakers need receivers such as Terry Wright, Isaac Zico, Rondale Moore and converted quarterback Jared Sparks to emerge as deep threats in order to make Brohm’s offense work.

BAILEY’S BRIGADE: With so many missing pieces on defense, the Boilermakers know they can build around linebacker Markus Bailey.

He was the Boilermakers’ second-leading tackler (89) and had a team-high seven sacks. He should provide a steady presence in a defense that needs leaders.

The only other returning starters are safeties Jacob Thieneman and Navon Mosley and defensive tackle Lorenzo Neal.

SCHEDULE: Purdue opens the season with four straight home games — Aug. 30 against Northwestern, Sept. 8 against Eastern Michigan, Sept. 15 against Missouri and Sept. 29 against Boston College. If the Boilermakers win two or more of those games, they could be bowl bound again in part because they play in the weaker Big Ten division and they host their two toughest foes, Ohio State on Oct. 20 and Wisconsin on Nov. 17.