Sophomore quarterback Grant Gremel stood on Indiana's football’s sideline, his eyes locked firmly across the field on the rival Purdue Boilermakers. Fifth-year senior quarterback Aidan O’Connell accepted high fives and slaps on the back from his teammates as he returned to the bench.
O’Connell had just led his offense on a scoring drive, standing tall in the pocket as his offensive line provided him enough time to launch a strike to fifth-year wide receiver Jackson Anthrop in the endzone.
O’Connell outdueled Gremel Saturday during Indiana football’s 44-7 loss in West Lafayette, Indiana.
Neither quarterback began their careers with a scholarship and neither began this season as their team’s starter. O’Connell lost his starting role to junior Jack Plummer in Purdue’s fall camp, and Gremel sat behind three other quarterbacks following Indiana’s camp.
Now, after several injuries and quarterback battles, here they were as competitors in the state of Indiana’s defining college football rivalry game.
“It was definitely cool going against another former walk-on,” Gremel said after the game. “I didn’t get a chance to say anything to him after the game, but I wanted to.”
It wasn’t O’Connell’s first opportunity to win the bucket for Purdue. In 2019, he threw for a then-career high 408 yards against Indiana in a loss. This season, he led Purdue to wins over two AP top-10 teams.
Gremel, on the other hand, was making his first career start after throwing his first career touchdown pass against Minnesota the previous week.
Each led their respective offenses to scores on their opening drives, but neither found the endzone. Purdue’s opening drive ended with a run from fifth-year running back Zander Horvath. Gremel had 55 passing yards in Indiana’s first drive, which finished with a touchdown run from freshman quarterback Donaven McCulley.
Those 55 passing yards made the majority of Indiana’s 69 total offensive yards for the quarter. Meanwhile, just one of O’Connell’s first 11 pass attempts fell incomplete. The senior had 99 yards before the end of the quarter.
Senior linebacker Micah McFadden said Purdue wasn’t able to establish a pass rush thanks to how quickly O’Connell threw the ball.
“I think we could’ve capitalized on a few takeaways here and there, jumping routes and stuff,” McFadden said. “I mean, they did a good job.”
Indiana’s offense finally made headway in Purdue’s territory in the second quarter thanks to a pass interference penalty against Purdue. The snap sailed past Gremel’s waiting hands on the next play, forcing him to fall on it 21 yards behind the line of scrimmage for a loss.
Purdue continued to rely on O’Connell’s arm until he was pulled thanks to a big lead in the fourth quarter. He finished the night completing 84% of his passes for 278 yards and four touchdowns.
Gremel spent the remainder of the night running away from pressure or succumbing to tackles, finishing with a 60% completion rate and 147 passing yards while taking four sacks.
“I just don’t think we executed the way we wanted to,” Gremel said. “That’s kind of been the theme all season.”
When the night ended and Purdue’s victory was sealed, O’Connell went with his teammates to claim the Old Oaken Bucket while Gremel, empty handed, was left on the field searching in vain for the fellow walk-on who’d bested him.