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Purdue wide receiver Rondale Moore runs after a catch against Vanderbilt on Sept. 7, 2019, in West Lafayette.

Purdue wide receiver Rondale Moore runs after a catch against Vanderbilt on Sept. 7, 2019, in West Lafayette.

BLOOMINGTON — Bad luck and an even worse defense contributed to Purdue struggling in its third season under head coach Jeff Brohm.

The Boilermakers went 4-8 in 2019 due in large part to a string of season-ending injuries, beginning with their best offensive player, speedy sophomore receiver Rondale Moore. Starting quarterback Elijah Sindelar went down for the season with a broken collarbone while linebacker Markus Bailey, the best defensive player on Purdue’s roster, suffered a season-ending torn ACL.

Bailey’s injury proved to be the hardest to overcome, as Purdue’s porous defense finished last in the Big Ten in total defense (436.3 yards per game) and 12th against the run (192.5 yards per game).

As a result, Purdue made a significant offseason change in its coaching staff, firing Nick Holt and hiring Bob Diaco as defensive coordinator. Diaco’s impressive resume includes stints at Notre Dame, Nebraska and Louisiana Tech. Last season, Diaco’s defense at Louisiana Tech was tied with Alabama for 37th nationally against the run, allowing 137.2 yards per game.

“He is one of the most well-respected defensive coaches in the country and has proven throughout his career to be an innovator on that side of the ball,” Brohm said in a release announcing Diaco’s hire.

There were some bright spots last season, led by a pair of freshmen who emerged during an injury-filled campaign. Wide receiver David Bell earned Big Ten freshman of the year honors, finishing with 86 catches for 1,035 yards and eight TDs (seven receiving, one rushing). Defensive end George Karlaftis led all freshman in the country in quarterback pressures (55) and was tied for the national lead in sacks (7.5).

Moore returning healthy from a hamstring injury will be a big factor for Purdue’s attempt to return to bowl eligibility in 2020 after a one-year absence. The Boilermakers went to bowls in each of Brohm’s first two seasons.

Here’s an early outlook for Purdue heading into the 2020 season:

WHAT THEY LOST

Brycen Hopkins, a fourth-round NFL Draft pick of the Los Angeles Rams, was one of the top receiving tight ends in the Big Ten last season with 61 catches for 830 yards and seven TDs.

Before going down with season-ending injuries, Sindelar passed for 978 yards and nine touchdowns, while Bailey had 14 tackles and one sack.

NEWCOMERS TO WATCH

Maliq Carr is the most talented freshman in Purdue’s 2020 class, a former basketball and football standout from Oak Park, Mich., who at 6-foot-5 and 225 pounds could evolve as either a threat at wide receiver or as a pass-catching tight end.

Purdue also dipped into the transfer portal to grab a pair of significant additions — UCLA quarterback Austin Burton and UConn safety Tyler Coyle.

Burton will compete with Jack Plummer and Aidan O’Connell for the starting job, while Coyle, with 260 career tackles, gives the Boilermakers a solid run-stopper in the back end of the defense.

Another potential impact newcomer on defense is outside linebacker DeMarcus Mitchell, a JUCO transfer who had 71 tackles and 1.5 sacks last season at Southwest Mississippi Community College.

PROSPECTS FOR 2020

Early tests on the road at Nebraska and at Boston College could dictate the momentum Purdue can create for the rest of the season.

It won’t get any easier deeper into Big Ten play as oddsmakers at the sports betting website www.SportsBettingDime.com rate Purdue’s schedule as the toughest out of 130 FBS teams.

The key is whether the defense under Diaco can make significant strides after a poor showing in 2019.

Developing more balance on offense would help as well, though Brohm’s stable of receivers may be as good as any in the Big Ten.

Consistent quarterback play must emerge to get those receivers the ball, and a better run game with returning running backs King Doerue and Zander Horvath would help as well.

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