Purdue coach Jeff Brohm laughed when asked to explain his quarterback rotation.
“I'm not going to lie, my brain's tired right now,” Brohm said, smiling. “I wish I had a calculated method of getting that done. It was somewhat situational. ... Then, maybe just when I felt like we needed a change-up.”
The old adage says a team that has two quarterbacks actually has none. Well, Purdue has three and each of the three – starter Aidan O'Connell and backups Jack Plummer and Austin Burton – played important snaps in Saturday's 24-7 upset win over No. 2 Iowa, a victory that propelled Purdue into the AP Top 25 for the first time since 2007.
Brohm, whose five-year tenure at times can begin to feel like one never-ending quarterback competition, gave every indication his team's multi-QB approach would continue as the 25th-ranked Boilermakers (4-2, 2-1 Big Ten) get set to take on Wisconsin (3-3, 1-2), a team they have not beaten in 14 tries since 2003.
“There's certain limitations certain guys have, and we wanted to make sure that we utilized all of our talent,” Brohm said. “I really felt that when it comes to quarterback play, we had a great competition in the spring and summer and fall, and it was close, always it was close. Each of them have some different strengths.
“(The quarterback rotation) gave us some mojo, it gave us a little excitement, it got more people involved.”
O'Connell remains the starter after going 30 for 40 for 375 yards and two touchdowns in the win over the Hawkeyes. But he has no problem with his backups getting snaps. Brohm noted that O'Connell was even suggesting the others go in the game in certain situations against Iowa.
“It's just the amount of playmakers we have,” O'Connell said. “Austin's a great quarterback. Jack's a great quarterback. So we want to get those guys on the field and give them the ability to make plays like they do. ... I told them in the locker room, I don't think I've ever had that much fun playing quarterback, running off the field, watching those guys run on. It felt like I was playing hockey or something.”
O'Connell's strength is that he can push the ball down the field, which he did Saturday behind an offensive line that permitted just one sack. But that becomes more difficult when the offense gets closer to the goal line and the field shrinks.
Usually, teams lean more heavily on the run in those situations, but the Boilermakers have had difficulty running the ball this season, and O'Connell doesn't provide much of a threat in that area. Enter Burton and Plummer, who can each throw the ball but also have the ability to move it on the ground. They provide another threat in the backfield and can open up holes for the running backs, as well.
Purdue entered Saturday's game 90th in the country in red-zone efficiency and then scored touchdowns on three of its six trips against the Hawkeyes and nearly had four as TJ Sheffield's stretch for the goal line in the third quarter resulted in a fumble inches from the pylon.
“I do think that all of our quarterbacks provide an element that can help us win,” Brohm said. “We're not real deep at running back, so there's things that we've got to do to try to move the chains on the ground.
“It wasn't an exact science. It wasn't something I had really done a whole lot before. There was a little stress involved just making sure I picked the right time and moment. But some of that is you've just got to roll with it and be aggressive, and our guys really did a good job executing it.”
Notes: Brohm is “not optimistic” about All-Big Ten running back Zander Horvath playing Saturday against Wisconsin. Horvath broke his leg on Sept. 11 and was expected to miss 4-8 weeks. ... Purdue is more optimistic about the status of tight end Payne Durham, who had five catches against Iowa, but was “nicked up,” Brohm said.
When: 3 p.m. Saturday
Where: Ross-Ade Stadium, West Lafayette
Records: No. 25 Purdue (4-2, 2-1 Big Ten), Wisconsin (3-3, 1-2)
TV: Big Ten Network
Radio: 1380 AM, 100.9 FM