Purdue QB Aidan O'Connell handling personal matters, will start Big Ten Championship game

WEST LAFAYETTE - Jeff Brohm wasn't certain who his starting quarterback would be against Indiana last Saturday.

But he knows who will be behind center against No. 2 Michigan for this weekend's Big Ten Championship.

Aidan O'Connell announced Monday that his brother Sean died last week, which Brohm said Monday morning left uncertainty whether or not the sixth-year signal caller would play against the Hoosiers.

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O'Connell did play, completing 18 of 29 passes for 290 yards and two touchdowns in a 30-16 victory that secured the Big Ten West division title and earned the Boilermakers a spot in Saturday's conference title game at Lucas Oil Stadium. He was visibly emotional on the sideline during the game while confiding in team chaplain Marty Dittmar.

"I give Aidan a lot of credit," Brohm said. "He did what he thought was best, played his heart out for his teammates and he gave us great effort."

O'Connell will start Saturday against the Wolverines, but will do so while handling family obligations surrounding his brother's death and being away from campus this week.

Purdue Boilermakers quarterback Aidan O'Connell (16) takes a snap during the NCAA football game against the Northwestern Wildcats, Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022, at Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette, Ind. Purdue won 17-9.
Purdue Boilermakers quarterback Aidan O'Connell (16) takes a snap during the NCAA football game against the Northwestern Wildcats, Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022, at Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette, Ind. Purdue won 17-9.

"He's got things he's got to deal with this week as well, but we'll be there to support him and whenever we can get him back here and get back to work, we'll look forward to that," Brohm said.

Other tidbits from Brohm's Monday morning and Sunday afternoon press conferences:

∎ Michigan's defense, running backs and offensive balance all are problematic for Purdue.

"Tremendous defense. I think their front four, plus, I'd say their front seven will be the most talented team we've played to date," Brohm said. "They're big. They're stout. They rotate a lot of guys in. They're good in the secondary. Statistically, one of the best defenses in the country. ...

"Both these running backs (Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards) are two of the best in the country and they've proven that week in and week out," Brohm said. "They've got got a great offensive line. They play a bunch of tight ends, they get in running sets and then you throw in an athletic quarterback, they can run it at any time and now you have to account for him."

∎ Brohm took his son to last year's Big Ten Championship game between Michigan and Iowa as a spectator, getting a feel for Lucas Oil Stadium and what Purdue might be in store for Saturday night.

"I was shocked that every seat was taken and it was loud," Brohm said. "And I mean every seat was taken. I took him to the national championship game, Georgia and Alabama, it was louder and more crowded than the Big Ten Championship game, so it will be a tremendous environment. It will be a lot of fun for our players, the teams, and a tremendous amount of fun for our fans to experience a game in that venue."

∎ Brohm believes Saturday's game will be won in the trenches. The offensive line's growth during Brohm's tenure has been key to improved success.

"Great teams in college football, everybody can get really good skill players and do a good job," Brohm said. "In my opinion it's how good are you going to be up front. Those guys don't get a lot of credit but that is where you win football games, and that is on the offensive and defensive side of the ball."

∎ We're coming up on four years since the passing of Purdue super fan Tyler Trent, a student who died of osteosarcoma, a rare bone cancer, on Jan. 1, 2019 and was an inspiration for the Boilermaker football program, famously predicting a Purdue win over Ohio State on ESPN before the Boilers won 49-20 in 2018.

Trent continues to be motivation with his fight and spirit as a cancer patient.

"He was an inspiration to all of us. Some of our guys are still here from that experience. Others know about him quite well," Brohm said. "This university is thankful for everything Tyler Trent did for us. We are able to still communicate with his family and see them regularly. It is always great to do that because of what he brought to the table for Purdue."

Sam King covers sports for the Journal & Courier. Email him at sking@jconline.com and follow him on Twitter and Instagram @samueltking.

This article originally appeared on Lafayette Journal & Courier: Purdue QB Aidan O'Connell will start Big Ten Championship game