WEST LAFAYETTE — With Purdue second-string quarterback Jack Plummer out for the year with a broken ankle, Aidan O’Connell is the next man up.
O’Connell will make his first career start at quarterback for Purdue in familiar surroundings when the Boilermakers play Saturday at Northwestern (noon, Big Ten Network).
O’Connell is from Long Grove, Ill., and played high school football in Libertyville, Ill., a Chicago suburb about 25 miles northwest of Northwestern’s campus in Evanston, Ill.
Plummer broke his ankle in the fourth quarter of Purdue’s 31-27 win over Nebraska last Saturday at Ross-Ade Stadium. O’Connell replaced him and led Purdue on the game-winning drive over the Cornhuskers in the fourth quarter, completing 6 of 7 passes for 62 yards. Purdue freshman receiver David Bell capped the drive with a 9-yard touchdown run on a reverse play with 1:08 remaining.
“He’s come here and earned everything he’s got,” Purdue coach Jeff Brohm said at his weekly press conference. “He puts in the time. He’s a great teammate. His players love him. He’s very unassuming. But you know what, he’s really improved and he’s taken great strides.”
A redshirt sophomore, O’Connell joined Purdue as a walk-on in 2017 after passing for school records for yardage (2,741 yards) and touchdowns (26) at Libertyville High. Brohm said O’Connell received a tryout for the team based on a recommendation from Jeff Christianson, a friend of his who trains high school quarterbacks in the Chicago area.
“He just kind of continued to get better and better, and throughout the course of the last two years, his throwing ability, his ability to kind of pick up the offense and make plays when he got in practice, he has done a good job,” Brohm said.
Brohm said it will be important for the rest of the team to play well around O’Connell, but he has confidence in the quarterback’s ability to execute the offense.
“He’ll stand there and try to make the throw and sit in that pocket and do the best job that he can,” Brohm said. “I think he is an accurate passer that has good fundamental form — fundamentals and technique and form — and has worked hard to perfect his throwing mechanics and craft.”
Purdue (3-6, 2-4 Big Ten) needs to win its final three games to reach a bowl for the third straight season under Brohm. The Boilermakers have seen their season derailed by countless injuries but are facing a Northwestern team that is struggling as well. The Wildcats (1-7, 0-6) have lost six straight and are coming off a 34-3 loss at Indiana. Northwestern has scored just three points over its last two games and ranks last in FBS (130th) in scoring offense at 9.8 points per game.
Brohm doesn’t expect speedy sophomore receiver Rondale Moore or senior defensive tackle Lorenzo Neal to return this week. Junior linebacker Cornel Jones also is expected to be out, Brohm said.
With so many injuries, Brohm said it’s going to take a collective effort for the Boilermakers to make a late-season run.
“It was good to see our team fight and find a way to win in the last game and a close game,” Brohm said. “Definitely not everything went perfect throughout the game, but we played to the end, and numerous guys stepped up when they had to, and that’s good to see. That’s kind of how we’re going to have to find a way to win this year is just playing hard, playing together.”