Purdue coach Jeff Brohm is looking for the perfect combination. Saturday.
With All-American receiver Rondale Moore making his first home-field appearance in 14 months and sophomore receiver David Bell still making acrobatic catches look routine, Brohm must work both into the mix.
It won't be easy against a vastly improved Rutgers defense but that's the challenge Brohm will face each time the two play-making receivers are in the lineup together.
“It’s about making sure we’re aggressive," Brohm said. “We look at creativity, we make sure the ball touches certain peoples’ hands numerous times — no matter which way it is — and if you’re trying to always throw downfield then you’ve got to get those touches."
Individually, Moore and Bell both possess incredible skill. But together, they give the Boilermakers (2-2) one of the nation's most explosive pass-catching tandems.
For opposing defenses, like the Scarlet Knights (1-4), it creates a huge headache — as coach Greg Schiano witnessed in his last trip to Ross-Ade Stadium.
Back in 2018, Schiano was Ohio State's defensive coordinator when Moore carved up the Buckeyes with 12 receptions for 170 yards and two scores, two carries for 24 yards, three kickoff returns for 46 yards and one punt return for 9 yards in Purdue's stunning 49-20 upset.
Schiano knows one thing hasn't changed.
“Offensively, they’re explosive,” he said. “They got Rondale Moore back last week. He ’s one of the fastest, most explosive guys in college football, and they were already doing an excellent job on offense."
Bell's presence complicates matters. While Moore possesses breakaway speed, Bell uses 6-foot-2, 205-pound frame to win jump balls and his strength to wrestle the ball from smaller defenders.
So Brohm's searching for a game-plan that features both.
“He plays hard, he made a lot of great plays (last week)," Brohm said when asked about Moore. “We got him the ball in space but we want to make sure we give him the ball in space and up the field, and we just have to continue to work on everybody’s game to get better."
Johnny Langan finished last season as the starting quarterback but has found a new role this season. He moves into the backfield when Rutgers snaps the ball inside an opponent’s 10-yard line or in short-yardage situations. Sometimes he lines up with starting quarterback Noah Vedral in the backfield. Sometimes he replaces Vedral.
It’s worked. Langan ran for two short scores last week. His four TD runs rank sixth in the Big Ten and Langan also threw a TD pass against Ohio State.
Purdue quarterback Jack Plummer is expected to make his second straight start in place of Aidan O'Connell, who has an undisclosed injury.
Plummer started six games last season before suffering a season-ending broken right ankle. O'Connell took over after Plummer's injury, then won the starting job in camp. Plummer got his first action since the injury in last week's loss at Minnesota, going 35 of 42 with 367 yards and three touchdown passes. His one interception with less than a minute to go sealed the Golden Gophers victory.
“I thought Jack did a very good job and played with a lot of poise and composure," Brohm said. “Like every game there’s a few things you’d like to take back and hang in there a little longer here and there, and maybe at the end of the game, you’d like to take a few things back."
In last week's loss, Rutgers was flagged 12 times for 100 yards. This season, the Scarlet Knights have 46 for 370 yards — 9.2 penalties and 74.0 yards per game. Schiano said he doesn't ever want to coach a team that leads the nation in fewest penalties but recognizes the current amount is too high.
“We’ve got to get that fixed,” he said. “It’s not from a lack of trying, but we may have to think of some different ways to do it. It could be any of the reasons. It could be (lack) of training camp. It could be that, you know, we don’t have as many officials in a practice as we usually do with the virus. I don’t know."
AP Sports Writer Tom Canavan contributed to this report.