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Gold and Black Illustrated, Vol 28 Digital 3

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GOLD AND BLACK ILLUSTRATED VOLUME 28, ISSUE 3 15 tently executed assignments against the run. His high mo- tor also helped him recover three fumbles. Hunte (7 PBUs) and graduate transfer Josh Okonye (10) played nearly every snap at the cornerback spots and were consistently good in run support — an undervalued quality for DBs — and rarely allowed big plays in the pass- ing game. And that says nothing about super sophomore Markus Bailey, playing out of position on the outside but still hav- ing a tremendous season with a team-high seven sacks and 89 tackles. Bailey, Bentley, McCollum and Ezechukwu may have been Purdue's best linebacking combination of the last decade, at least. "We probably have the best corps in the conference," said Holt, also linebackers coach, late in the season. "There's no doubt. I'm biased. But when those guys are on all cylinders and all healthy, I wouldn't trade them for anybody. "They're smart players, and quite honestly, they get to do a lot of fun things and they're taking advantage of it, and they're good players. You put all those ingredients in a cake or a pie, it ends up being pretty sweet." Purdue certainly had other players rise on defense, too. Jacob Thieneman, a steady, heady former walk-on, start- ed all but one game at safety and was third on the team in tackles (80), had two sacks and tied for the team lead with two interceptions, including one that sealed the 38- 35 victory over Arizona in the Foster Farms Bowl. Senior Antoine Miles, who didn't think he'd be academically eli- gible for his final season, surged at times, including a two- sack performance in that pivotal victory at Iowa. Defensive tackles Lorenzo Neal and Eddy Wilson largely were assign- ment-sound and disruptive in the interior. "I think we did improve throughout the year," Holt said before the bowl game. "I think as the season went on, we found out what we were good at and there were some things, 'Hey, we don't really need to do this.' So I think we really honed in on our package and solidified it and our guys got better because of it. "The stats, all those, I really don't pay attention to it. I just like the way our guys have, really, they've got a glow about them now. They have confidence. They feel good about themselves. Their self-image has come miles, in my opinion. They're good kids, and they're fun to be around. We have really good leadership, and we're going to miss a lot of these guys, obviously. I'm really excited for what they got done. It's too bad we didn't get a couple of those other close games, it would have been really good for these guys. But I'm so proud of them, so happy that they got to feel some success." On offense, there were more questions entering the season — and during it. Even midseason, Brohm said Purdue didn't have a good enough passing attack to win games. But, to Brohm's credit, he continued to evolve and dialed up specific game plans for each opponent. Though Purdue's run game had gotten hot in the middle of the season, if Brohm didn't think it'd be able to produce, he didn't try. And Purdue still competed. But he found balance at other times, especially once Elijah Sindelar had to take over at quarterback for David Blough, who suffered a sea- son-ending injury in his second game after being named full-time starting QB. With Sindelar, more of a pocket passer than Blough, Brohm went back to chucking the ball down the field, at times, while mixing in the run. That helped Sindelar pro- duce some big-time passing games — he had nearly 400 yards apiece against Northwestern and Arizona — and al- lowed unexpected receivers to emerge late in the year. Senior Anthony Mahoungou's final three games were confounding and commanding. A player who'd struggled most of his career to consistently catch passes, especially in traffic, seemingly all of a sudden became a playmak- er, abusing a pair of underclassman cornerbacks at Iowa for a pair of third-quarter touchdowns that sparked that shocking victory, leaping to grab a pass over IU's best cornerback in the regular-season finale and then out- racing everyone for a touchdown. And in the bowl game, he caught a pair of touchdown passes, including the game-winning score with a defender literally grabbing at him and his injured shoulder. So if the defense's story was its consistent, dominating presence, the offense's may have been how it was able to get remarkable performances when it needed them most. Mahoungou's qualified. Tario Fuller ripped off 142 yards rushing in a blowout of Ohio in Week 2. Blough was particularly efficient (22-of-28, 187 yards, TD) in a dominating early-season victory at Missouri. Junior running back Markell Jones, who was hurt in Week 1 and had to work his way back into significant snaps, brutalized IU for a career-high 217-yard effort, nearly half-a- season after he juked a defender near the sideline to score the game-winner against Minnesota.

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