Purdue Football 2020 Position Previews – Quarterback

Quarterbacks

It seems like almost every year Purdue is inevitably holding a QB competition heading into the fall and this year is no exception and may be one of the most wide open races we have seen in recent years.  The delay of the season has made the competition even tighter going into the late fall camp, so let’s take a look and breakdown who will be vying for the elusive title of QB1 heading into the 2020 season.

Jack Plummer – QB Competition Favorite

Sophomore – 6’5″ 220 lbs.

Jack Plummer directs traffic on his way to a 33/41 passing performance for 420 yards and 3 touchdowns against Maryland in 2019.

As a redshirt Freshman, Jack Plummer was thrown into the fire twice last season. The first came after Elijah Sindelar suffered a concussion and was ruled out before TCU and again after Sindelar suffered a season ending injury during Purdue’s third offensive series against Minnesota just two weeks later.  Last season Plummer completed just under 60% of his passes for 1603 yards, 11 touchdowns and 8 interceptions in 7 games.  Plummer showed some flashes of greatness last season, specifically when he went 33 of 41 for 420 yards, 3 touchdowns and no interceptions in Purdue’s 44-14  blowout of Maryland.  That’s a video game level performance right there.  For context, most quarterbacks’ completion percentage around 60% is really solid, but for a redshirt freshman, that is very good and promising for the future.  One thing that sticks out is Plummer’s TD-Interception ratio, while at 11-8 it isn’t great, it is worth noting four of the eight interceptions occurred against TCU and Minnesota, the two games where he was thrown into the fire.  The last four interceptions came over almost five complete games before he was injured late against Nebraska.  This absolutely shows Plummer was getting more and more comfortable within the system as the season went on and grew accustomed to being QB1.  An improved offensive line going into this season will also only help Plummer’s interception numbers, by allowing him more time to make good decisions.  Plummer’s injury from last season appears to have been very similar to David Blough’s back in 2017 and should be good to go 100% for the upcoming season despite not fully participating and rehabbing during the spring season.  Personally I think Plummer will be the slight favorite to start Week 1 against Iowa, given his solid performance during last season and his improvement as the season went on.  

Aidan O’Connell – QB Competition Underdog

Junior – 6’3″ 200 lbs.

Aidan O’Connell warms up prior to defeating Northwestern 24-22 during the 2019 season.

I would wager a large percentage of the Purdue fanbase didn’t know Aidan was on the roster going into 2019, but after a pair of injuries and medical retirements, the walk-on redshirt junior from Lincolnshire was thrust into the spotlight.  O’Connell made his first appearance last year in mop up time in Happy Valley as Purdue lost to Penn State 35-7.  It wasn’t until three weeks later that O’Connell lined up behind center for Purdue, during what felt like a hurricane against Illinois.  Poor performance in the rain led Jeff Brohm to swap Plummer for O’Connell multiple times throughout the rainy afternoon in an attempt to spark some offense.  It wasn’t until late in the fourth quarter that Purdue would score on an 11 yard touchdown pass by O’Connell to Payne Durham.  A week later O’Connell was really thrust into the spotlight as he took over for an injured Jack Plummer on the Nebraska 11 yardline with the Boilers down 20-17.  O’Connell finished out the drive for a touchdown.  After a Nebraska touchdown, O’Connell launched himself into Purdue lore by engineering an 82 yard game winning drive to lift the Boilers over the Cornhuskers 31-27.  A week later O’Connell led the Boilers to a come from behind win against Northwestern, with a game winning 39 yard field goal by DJ Dellinger.  O’Connell fought valiantly against a stout Wisconsin defense and nearly took a lead against the Badgers on the first drive of the second half.  In the last week of the season, O’Connell improved and was able to tie the Hoosiers after being down 18 points in the second half.  By the end of the season O’Connell finished with a 62.8% completion percentage, with 8 touchdowns to 4 interceptions.  Aidan definitely benefited from more stable offensive line play in the back half of the season and showed how successful the pocket passer could be given improved line play this year.  The question that remains to be seen is how much O’Connell’s performance increased his stock and if he was able to further increase that stock in the offseason while Plummer finished out his rehab.

Austin Burton – QB Competition Dark Horse

Junior – 6’2″ 200 lbs.

Purdue Quarterback Austin Burton, during one of six appearances as Quarterback for UCLA last season. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

After news of Elijah Sindelar’s retirement from football, Purdue once again casted a line out into the quarterback grad transfer market.  While Purdue was unable to land someone that would be a sure thing starter they were able to add to the QB competition with UCLA grad transfer Austin Burton.   A Burton makes his way to West Lafayette with two years of eligibility remaining after spending three years at UCLA.  At 6’2” 200 lbs Burton lies on the more mobile end of pro-style quarterbacks and has experience running read options. At UCLA Burton was the backup to Dorian Thompson-Robinson, who I expect will compete for first team All-Pac12 this season, so his transfer is less of a reflection on his skills but rather the competition he would be facing over the next two years. During his redshirt sophomore season at UCLA last year, Burton participated in six games, including one start against Oregon State in which he completed 27 of 41 passes for 1 touchdown and added a second touchdown on the ground.  Going through his tape from last year, Burton shows all of the signs of a reliable passer.  When given time he progresses through his reads well and when he is rushed he often makes the smart play of throwing it away. One thing that really stuck out about Burton in his game film, and of the skeleton film from the summer we have seen, is his ability to throw the ball on the run.  The ability to move the quarterback out of the pocket opens up many offensive blocking schemes that can really help to mitigate quarterback pressure.  I think Burton is a smart quarterback and appears to have a real understanding for the game and don’t think he will have trouble learning the Purdue playbook in time for the fall season and should absolutely be able to put the pressure on Plummer and O’Connell as the QB competition starts, especially with the extra time to learn the playbook and pass with receivers due to the delay in the season.

Paul Piferi – Back Up

RS Freshman – 6’5″ 230 lbs.

Paul Piferi is coming off of a redshirt season, that seemed like it would almost need to be burned had another injury occurred to a quarterback.  There has been plenty of talk about potential throwing mechanics issues with Piferi, and while that may have been true, some offseason video work shows that either the issues never existed or are starting to get better at the very least.  Unfortunately with the pandemic cutting off spring practices, Piferi lost out on valuable reps and time working as QB2 with Plummer rehabbing and Burton yet on the squad.  It’s very hard to gauge quarterback skills when you haven’t seen them play since over a year ago, so we are going to tab Piferi as a back-up this season, but who knows, anything could happen between now and October 24th.

Mike Alaimo – Redshirt

Freshman – 6’4″ 215 lbs.

Mike Alaimo makes his way to Purdue via St Joseph Regional High School in Montvale, New Jersey.  Not only was Mike one of the highest rated recruits of the 2020 class, but he is the second highest rated quarterback recruit to come to Purdue in the modern era, only behind Kyle Orton.  At 6’5” 215 lbs, Alaimo is very lanky but has very good athleticism for his size and has very good accuracy outside of the pocket.  Outside of a handful of quarterback recruits each year it is very rare for freshmen to see the field or compete for minutes.  That will certainly be the case for the young Mike Alaimo, but he will most certainly look to compete for starting time after this year.

Walk-ons Jack Albers (RS Freshman transfer from Dayton) and Andrew Hobson (Freshman from Hamilton Southeastern) will serve as deep backups this season.

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