Turning the page
Nebraska rush offense vs. Purdue rush defense
The Huskers' improved commitment to the run game has paid off this season in the fourth quarters of games, as NU has closed out wins against Northwestern, Illinois and Indiana with a glut of runs from Terrell Newby. Purdue's run defense has been awful in Big Ten play, giving up 400 yards to Maryland, 315 to Illinois and 365 to Iowa. Aside from defensive tackle Jake Replogle — a nice player — the Boilermakers haven't shown much ability to compete. Last season's game against Nebraska is an exception, when the Huskers managed a measly 77 yards. Nebraska avoids a repeat of that mess.
Nebraska pass offense vs. Purdue pass defense
The Boilermakers will almost certainly load up the box to stop Nebraska's run game, forcing Husker quarterback Tommy Armstrong to throw the ball. Purdue defensive coordinator Ross Els — a Lincoln native and former Nebraska linebackers coach — must know that Armstrong struggles against stingy man-to-man defense. Els will likely roll the dice, play physical against Nebraska's wideouts and see what Armstrong can get done. A better screen game would be helpful.
Purdue rush offense vs. Nebraska rush defense
The Huskers played stingy run defense against Indiana, giving up a paltry 88 yards on the ground — 33 of which came on one play. Purdue's run game has been pretty average this season — Maryland held the Boilermakers' to 10 rush yards, while Iowa allowed just 46. The Boilermakers will happily abandon the run to throw, and that will likely happen Saturday.
Purdue pass offense vs. Nebraska pass defense
Purdue quarterback David Blough is the prototypical Texas high school gunslinger. He can run around and make big plays, he'll take big risks and he's tough to knock down or discourage. He riddled the Huskers last season for 273 passing yards and 82 rushing yards. His experienced set of receivers — led by DeAngelo Yancey — will give Nebraska some fits. The Husker secondary could give Blough some fits, though, with its tight coverage and playmaking ability. Chances are, they'll both take chunks out of each other.
Nebraska's punt team is the nation's worst and Purdue will have to try to take advantage of it with either a return or a block attempt. The rest of Nebraska's special teams are decent enough, if not spectacular; it feels like De'Mornay Pierson-El is close to breaking a long punt return for a touchdown. Nebraska has the better kicker in Drew Brown, the better kick coverage unit and should squeak by Purdue in this category.
Purdue has the Big Ten's worst turnover margin (minus-7 for the season) but commits fewer penalties, for fewer yards, than the Huskers. The Boilermakers are awful in the red zone, converting just 14 of 22 trips into points, while Nebraska's defense is the most stingy. NU has to guard against looking past Purdue to big games against Wisconsin and Ohio State, but since Purdue beat NU last season, there's some decent motivation here.
Key matchup: Nebraska's offensive line against Purdue's front seven
If Nebraska runs the ball well, it's game over. The question is: Will the Huskers' beat-up offensive line be any better than the average players Purdue puts on the field? NU needs to stick with the run even when it doesn't appear to be working because the Huskers have proven it'll pay off in the fourth quarter. Improving Nebraska's first-down yards per carry would be good, too.
Has there been a recent game Nebraska more wanted to merely survive — without any more injuries or, of course, a loss — than Saturday's game against Purdue? The Boilermakers have an interim coach, Gerad Parker, after they fired Darrell Hazell. So the team has little to lose, and knows it'll have an entirely different coaching staff by next season. There's a freedom in that. They'll play for themselves. Nebraska, meanwhile, can put this game on ice quickly with a big first quarter, but it's not too likely. This game might just be a pain to watch. NU's defense should hold up OK, but the offense may struggle, and this game could be closer than expected. If it is, expect a week of hand-wringing from Husker fans.
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World-Herald staff writer Sam McKewon logged on Monday for a special edition of “Husker Talk Live.”
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