Everybody figured that a Cardinals quarterback would take center stage in Indianapolis as regional rivals Purdue and Louisville squared off at Lucas Oil Stadium. What might have been slightly unexpected for some is that it was former UL signal-caller Jeff Brohm who stole the show… as the head coach of the Boilermakers.
Brohm’s team showed an impressive amount of moxie under the dome and gave their top 20 opponent everything they could handle for four quarters before the Cardinals eventually were able to pull away for a 35-28 win.
Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Lamar Jackson played a big role in that final scoreline and looked much more like the player we saw dazzle college football at the beginning of last year. His numbers were spectacular when glancing at the box score — 378 yards passing and two touchdowns, 107 yards on the ground — but would have been even better had he gotten any help from his run game or offensive line.
Over on defense, a new-look Cardinals unit was pinned with their backs against the wall several times thanks to short fields and had to play most of the game without the services of their best player. All-American cornerback Jaire Alexander left early in the first half while trying to run back a blocked field goal, injuring lower leg and did not return. Despite those issues, they still made plenty of adjustments to slow down Purdue in the second half and recorded four sacks and four turnovers on the night.
The real story was not about the ranked team but about how much better the Boilermakers looked after such a dreadful 2016 that prompted wholesale changes for the program. Elijah Sindelar (118 yards, two scores, one pick) got the start for the team at quarterback and threw the game’s first touchdown, but was pulled several times for veteran David Blough (175 yards, two touchdowns and interceptions) starting in the second quarter. The rushing attack wasn’t much to write home about at just 2.4 yards per carry but the new spread attack using two signal-callers was pesky enough to make things interesting from start to finish.
When you look at season openers, you tend to learn as much about the lower ranked team as the higher one and that certainly seemed like the case on Saturday night in Indianapolis. Purdue looks much more competitive than they were a year ago and may have enough on the roster to make things interesting in their head coach’s debut campaign. The flip side is that Louisville doesn’t appear as close to ACC rivals Florida State or Clemson as they would like to be at this point.
The night still belonged to the Cardinals in the end, but the old one on the other sideline had plenty to smile about too.