Game Day: Nebraska vs. Purdue

New bag of tricks?

Last year the Boilermakers used a bye week to remake their struggling defense, switching their base alignment up front to a 3-4 look, debuting a few new pressure schemes and moving away from many of their previous tendencies in coverage. It all left NU quarterback Tommy Armstrong baffled. Could it happen again? Armstrong and the Huskers certainly expect the Boilermakers to try. Purdue is coming off a bye week yet again.

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2-Minute Drill by Rich Kaipust

Nebraska rush offense vs. Purdue rush defense

I-back Ameer Abdullah is back on track after the tough sledding at Michigan State, running for 371 yards and seven touchdowns the last two Saturdays. Purdue had a bye week to look at the Huskers’ zone read game, but the combination of Abdullah and quarterback Tommy Armstrong is going to be dangerous if Nebraska completes a few throws and the Boilermakers have to respect the pass. Purdue is allowing 173.8 yards per game and 4.5 per carry, both among the worst marks in the Big Ten.

Nebraska pass offense vs. Purdue pass defense

Purdue has been susceptible to the big play, and that’s one of the things that NU does best with its passing game (18 completions of 25-plus yards). The Boilermakers also have been inconsistent with their pass rush and are allowing opponents to complete 57.4 percent of their passes. That could result in Armstrong having some success with Kenny Bell and Jordan Westerkamp if he’s on target.

Purdue rush offense vs. Nebraska rush defense

Purdue has made some of its greatest improvements in the running game, already exceeding last year’s total (805) with its 1,447 through eight games. Both Akeem Hunt and Raheem Mostert have break-away speed, too, if the Huskers play a gap or assignment wrong. NU is allowing 123.8 yards per game and 3.7 per carry, but its last three opponents have combined for 448 yards.

Purdue pass offense vs. Nebraska pass defense

The Boilermakers seem to have fed off the recent change to Austin Appleby, but they haven’t had much success going down the field and have nine interceptions to go with 12 touchdowns. Nebraska, meanwhile, is having another solid season against the pass, allowing teams to complete just 48.1 percent of their throws and getting more interceptions (nine) than TD passes allowed (eight). It will be even tougher on Appleby if the NU defensive front starts spending a lot of time in the Boilermaker backfield.

Special teams

Both teams have an explosive return threat, with De’Mornay Pierson-El on punts for Nebraska and Raheem Mostert on kickoffs for Purdue. Paul Griggs has hit 10 of 12 field goals for the Boilermakers, compared to Drew Brown at 9 of 13 for NU. The minor differences might be the success of Husker punter Sam Foltz recently and Purdue ranking last in the Big Ten in kickoff coverage.

Intangibles

Nebraska is in a different place as a program and gets the Boilermakers at home after dismantling them a year ago in West Lafayette. NU has a small edge in turnover margin, but has been penalized slightly more. The Huskers are more efficient in time of possession and third-down conversions, have a more experienced quarterback and own an edge in overall talent.

Key matchup: Key matchup: Purdue O-line vs. Nebraska D-line

Purdue has come a long way with its offensive line, both with its play and a newfound edge. The three sophomores and two juniors, however, will face a formidable challenge against defensive end Randy Gregory, defensive tackle Maliek Collins and the rest of the Nebraska front four.

Our take

Purdue has scored 31 or more points five times, but also has given up at least 24 to everybody but Southern Illinois. If the Boilermaker defense can’t get off the field against Nebraska, it could be a long game. The Huskers have plenty to gain here, too, with a bye week on deck before the all-important Wisconsin-Minnesota-Iowa finish to the season.

Our prediction: Nebraska 40, Purdue 20

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