Despite recent defections, Purdue still a talented foe for LSU in Citrus Bowl

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J.J. McCarthy, Jack Sullivan

The 9-4 LSU Tigers square off against the 8-5 Purdue Boilermakers in the 2023 Vrbo Citrus Bowl.

Let’s look at a lot of information and interesting snippets about the Big Ten West Champions ahead of the Jan. 2 meeting, the first-ever between the two proud programs.

The Tigers are 2-3 in the Citrus Bowl all-time, having beaten Wake Forest (1979 in Charlie McClendon’s final game) and Louisville (2016 in a shutdown of Lamar Jackson). LSU fell to Iowa (2005 on a dramatic final play), Penn State (2010 on a very muddy field) and Notre Dame (2017 to Brian Kelly’s Fightin’ Irish in 2017).

Throughout the 131 year history of Purdue football, they have only recorded one 10-win season, when Ed Zaunbrecher was the Boilers QB/WR coach in 1979. Five seasons later, he was hired as LSU’s offensive coordinator under Bill Arnsparger.

During the Drew Brees era at Purdue under head coach Joe Tiller (1997-2000), the Boilermakers posted a 33-16 mark. Brees is now helping temporarily as an assistant coach as his alma mater prepares for the Citrus Bowl.

Jeff Brohm guided the Boilermakers for six seasons with a 36-34 mark before deciding this month to leave for his alma mater, Louisville. The 51-year old will be replaced for this contest by his younger brother, Brian Brohm, who has served as co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.

The 37-year old previously stepped in for his brother in 2020, leading Purdue to a 24-20 win over Iowa when Jeff tested positive for COVID.

The interim head coach spent three seasons in the NFL. Chosen by the Packers in the secondnd round of the 2008 NFL Draft, Brohm spent his time holding the clipboard behind Aaron Rodgers and ex-LSU star Matt Flynn.

It’s hard to use the full season statistics to compare these two teams since LSU is in a very stable situation with pretty much a full roster while Purdue has lost its head coach as well as other top performers.

Opting out to prepare for the draft are Purdue standouts including quarterback Aidan O’Connell, tight end Payne Durham, wide receiver Charlie Jones and cornerback Corey Trice.

O’Connell, a former walk-on, had 57 career touchdowns passes and 7,679 passing yards. Both figures rank sixth in school history.

Durham (6-5, 255) could enjoy a long NFL career after grabbing 126 passes including 21 for touchdowns during his time in West Lafayette.

Jones transferred to Purdue from Iowa this season and became the nation’s top receiver this season with 110 catches which he turned into a school-record 1,361 yards with 12 scores. He is headed to the Senior Bowl.

Trice (6-3, 215) played in 33 games over 1,684 defensive snaps. He will be hard for Purdue to replace against LSU’s dynamic receiving corp. Trice is projected to be a second day NFL draft pick.

There are additional Boilermakers in the transfer portal set to play in the Citrus Bowl – DE Jack Sullivan, DT Branson Deen and DT Lawrence Johnson.

The Boilermakers do have some quality still available on the offensive side of the ball. Sixth year senior Austin Burton (6-3, 210) a transfer from UCLA, gets his third career college start behind center in place of O’Connell.

Against Florida Atlantic on Sept. 24 in a 28-24 Purdue win, Burton went 21-of-26 for 166 yards and three touchdowns with an interception while O’Connell was injured.

Brees has been impressed with what he has witnessed in Burton.

“I like his demeanor, I think he’s got some natural leadership qualities just watching his interactions with other QB’s and his teammates,” Brees told “He’s got good size, good strength, he gets the ball out on time and was accurate as far as what I saw today.”

The future Pro Football Hall of Famer owns Purdue records for completions, attempts, passing yards and passing touchdowns. Also of note, Brees is familiar with LSU’s Kelly having served as a game analyst during Notre Dame home broadcasts for NBC in 2021.

Michael Alaimo (6-4, 225) may also help to fill the void left by O’Connell. The former four-star signee in 2020 is a fine athlete who can extend plays with his feet. Alaimo sometimes locks onto a receiver with his eyes for too long. He will also be affected by pressure and release a pass too soon. The redshirt junior has played in three games at Purdue.

Replacing Durham and Jones will be a tall task. Paul Piferi (6-6, 246), a redshirt junior, moved from QB to TE in 2020. He had nine catches for 132 yards and a score this season.

Jones’ contribution is impossible to duplicate but a pair of juniors will look to take advantage of the situation to shine. T.J. Sheffield (5-11, 190) had 39 catches for 424 yards and three touchdowns and Marshawn Rice (6-2, 205) snared 21 passes for 273 yards and one score.

The Boilermaker defense is stout with its fair share of outstanding players.

Sullivan, a 6-5, 275-pound redshirt senior, has played in 39 games, recording 86 tackles including 14 for losses and 9.5 sacks. He is a penetrator who uses his hands well and anchors well. He’s a very hard worker who likes the trench battles.

Opposite Sullivan at defensive end is junior Kydran Jenkins (6-1, 270). In 24 starts the past two years, he has accumulated 66 stops, 16 TFL and 9.0 sacks. Jenkins is very active along the line of scrimmage.

Senior strong safety Cam Allen (6-1,195) may be Purdue’s best all-around defender. He is the type to come up with the big play. Allen has tallied 108 tackles the past two seasons, along with seven interceptions and nine PBU. He has 10 career picks.

Allen learned a hard lesson Nov. 19 against Northwestern. After interception a pass at midfield, he began high stepping in celebration at the 35-yard line all the way into the endzone. The touchdow was nullified due to an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. LSU fans will remember remember a similiar situation years ago on a fake punt by Brad Wing. Like the Tigers that day against Florida, Purdue still won the game (17-9).

Don’t let the embarrassing moment fool you. Allen is a smart safety who reads the eyes of passers well and knows his responsibilities extremely well.

Jalen Graham (6-3, 220, 4.68) could be a late round pick in the ’23 draft. The outside linebacker or “star” position standout has played in 38 games and totaled 116 stops the past two years. He played in 11 games as a true freshman.

Versatility is Graham’s calling card. He will drop into coverage and tackles well in space. Occasionally he will blitz or pressure the quarterback.

Will linebacker Kieren Douglas (6-2, 240, 4.62) is a transfer from Army who is a sixth-year senior and the emotional leader of the defense. He has battled knee injuries but is regarded as a tough as nails player like yuo’d expect from a former Black Knight.

Free safety Sanoussi Kane (6-0, 205) suffered a hip injury during the ’22 season offseason which included cartilage damage and a fracture but returned to be a major contributor. He managed 69 tackles with three for loss and a sack.


The best feel good story on the Purdue squad is redshirt freshman running back Devin Mockobee. The 6-foot, 195 pounder is the Boilermakers’ version of LSU’s former walk-on Josh Williams. Mockobee has been a major factor in the team’s offensive success.

A two-star prospect in the ’21 class and originally committed to Navy, Mockobee was viewed as either a cornerback or slot receiver. He proved those projections to be inaccurate, earning a scholarship recently as a proven Power Five runner.

Mockobee set a Purdue freshman record this season with 920 rushing yards on 5.1 yards per tote and scored nine touchdowns. He recorded four 100-yard rushing performances this season with 178 yards against Nebraska as his best. The Boonville, Ind. product added 29 catches for 248 yards. Six of those grabs came against Michigan in the Big Ten Championship Game.

As mentioned Purdue is like some other bowl teams who will not field quite the same team that helped them become successful in the regular season. The elephant in the room for college football is the transfer portal.

Brees weighed in during Citrus Bowl preparations.

“What the transfer portal has done to a certain extent is it’s made guys run away from challenges and run away from adversity and that’s unfortunate.”

It’s unfortunate that the Boilermakers will be so disadvantaged in Orlando as LSU was last year in the Texas Bowl. The Tigers has less than 40 scholarship players left to play that game.

However, it’s just how it is in this new era. Don’t expect it to change anytime soon.

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Rene Nadeau


Born and raised in the New Orleans area, Rene Nadeau has been involved in sports ever since his earliest memories. Rene played basketball, wrestled, ran track, and was an All-District running back in football at John F. Kennedy High School. He went on to be a member of the LSU football program, developing a passion for the game in even…

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