The secret to Plummer’s success? Training camp competition

Just call him “Professor” Brian Brohm.

During training camp, the Purdue co-offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach conducted Quarterbacking 101, grading his signal-callers on every drill they executed.

“This is the first year we’re actually grading,” said Jack Plummer. “Coach Brian Brohm graded every single rep we took.”

Those grades were posted on a whiteboard for all the quarterbacks to see: Plummer, Aidan O’Connell, Austin Burton, Michael Alaimo …

“It put a lot of pressure on us, too,” said Plummer. “And I feel like the pressure made us better … I feel like the pressure gives us kind of game-like situations, when you really have to put pressure on yourself.”

The competition paid off for the 6-5, 220-pound Plummer. It sharpened his focus, which was a big reason why he was ready to play when his number was called last Friday at Minnesota.

Plummer was forced to make the start—his first action of 2020—after O’Connell was unable to play after suffering an injury vs. Northwestern the previous game. O’Connell started the first three games after winning a training camp battle for the job, beating out Plummer and UCLA grad transfer Austin Burton.

How long will O’Connell be out? No one is saying. So, for now, this is Plummer’s team. And the sophomore will start a second game in a row this Saturday when Purdue (2-2-) plays host to Rutgers (1-4) in a game that kicks off at 4 p.m. ET in Ross-Ade Stadium.

Plummer hopes to pick up where he left off at Minnesota, where he hit 35-of-42 passes (83 percent) for 367 yards and three touchdowns with an interception. Yes, the Boilermakers lost, 34-31, but it wasn’t because of quarterback play.

“I thought Jack played really well,” said Brohm. “He did a good job of executing the game plan, knowing when to run with the football. Thought he got into the rhythm there and was playing with a bounce, and did a lot of good things throughout the game. So, I was happy with his overall performance.”

It goes back to that competition, when Brohm would hand out grades that ranged from -2 to +2.

“If you get a good completion, accurate completion, that’s most likely going to be a .5,” said Plummer. “You make a really hard throw, it’s 1. If you make an outstanding play, it’s 1.5. I don’t think any 2s or -2s were are given out. …

“It really made us all step our game up. And we all played really well in camp.”

Plummer took the field last week having tasted success. He started six games last year, taking over two times for an injured Elijah Sindelar. Then, Plummer suffered a season-ending injury (ankle) of his own vs. Nebraska in the ninth game, opening the door for O’Connell to start the final three games.

No doubt, the 2019 experience helped Plummer. The Gilbert, Ariz., native looked poised in the pocket at Minnesota. And Plummer was on the mark, hitting 16 of his first 17 passes and 27 of his first 30. And he also showed an ability to extend plays with his feet.

“Like I said, I thought Jack did a very good job and played with a lot of poise and composure,” said Jeff Brohm. “Like every game, there’s a few things you’d like to take back and to hang a little longer here and there, and maybe at the end of the game, you’d like to take a few things back. But I think, in general, you know, he came ready to play and he’s worked very hard. I was very proud of him.”

With the way Plummer played Friday, you wonder: How good was O’Connell in camp? Regardless, that competition sharpened Plummer and O’Connell.

“That’s the goal every year,” said Brian Brohm. “When you can get good quarterbacks in the room, and they can compete, and they can see other guys that are playing well, and try to take parts of their game, see what other guys do well and try to develop that into their game. I think that always helps. We have a good room of quarterbacks that did a great job of competing and getting better every day. I think it is true they made each other better as they competed.”

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Jeff Brohm noticed.

“I definitely feel competition brings out best of all of us and we’ve had that here at every position,” said Brohm. “But even the quarterback position before this year, when David (Blough) and Elijah (Sindelar) were competing, it brought out best of both of them and you see David playing in the NFL and has a good career going and we’ve got some quarterbacks here that, you know, we work with on a daily basis, they put in the work themselves, they want to be great players and when there’s others that are pretty good around you, you have to do your part.”

Plummer’s start means that in his four season as Purdue coach, Jeff Brohm will not have started the same quarterback in every game for an entire season. The last Boilermaker signal-caller to start every game in a season? It was David Blough in 2016. Plummer could be the starter for a while.

“(O’Connell’s) got an injury that we’re going to try to get him back as far as we can,” said Brohm. “And we’ll see when that is. You know, I don’t know the timetable.”

Even when O’Connell comes back, it sounds like he isn’t guaranteed his starting spot.

“Well, it always depends on how our guys play,” said Brohm. “We feel like Aidan has done a very good job for us when he’s been there and we feel like Jack’s has done a very good job. We feel like Austin (Burton), you know, has done a good job getting ready to play, as well. We’ll gauge it as we go. For us, it’s about winning every week and that’s the only thing we’re focused on.”

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