Game Day: Nebraska vs. Purdue

Looking to step up

Nebraska coach Mike Riley may still be in the honeymoon with all things Husker, but Nebraska’s football team has put itself in a tough spot, now facing a steep hill to reach a bowl game or any of the goals that it set for itself before the season. Even if 1-6 Purdue, the Huskers’ opponent Saturday morning at Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette, Indiana, is the weakest team on Nebraska’s schedule, odds mount against NU. Obstacles grow.

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2-Minute Drill by Jon Nyatawa

Nebraska rush offense vs. Purdue rush defense

Nebraska tried various methods to get something going on the ground against Northwestern, but managed just 82 rushing yards. The Huskers still rank 33rd nationally at 4.94 yards per carry. But can they be physical and assertive enough against Purdue's big-bodied front? The Boilermakers are allowing 210.2 rushing yards per game during the past three years — but they've held NU to 4.02 yards per carry in their last two meetings.

Nebraska pass offense vs. Purdue pass defense

The health status of starting quarterback Tommy Armstrong is in question, so that'll make a big difference. With him at the helm, he's led the Huskers to a No. 36 ranking in passing yards per game (260.6) — though they're only averaging 7.1 yards per attempt. Not as efficient as they would like. And now it may be Fyfe's turn. Purdue's Leroy Clark is the man to watch (he has two interceptions and team-high six pass break-ups).

Purdue rush offense vs. Nebraska rush defense

Purdue has relied mostly on two backs — freshman Markell Jones (5.9 yards per carry) and sophomore D.J. Knox (3.8 yards per carry). But Knox is hurt. And the Boilermakers still rank just 123rd nationally with 21 rushes of 10-plus yards this year. It won't be any easier against the Huskers, whose defensive line and linebackers have reacted aggressively and instinctively to run game action all year. NU ranks 33rd nationally at 3.51 yards per carry allowed.

Purdue pass offense vs. Nebraska pass defense

David Blough is an inexperienced redshirt freshman quarterback with receivers who haven't yet proved to be big-time game-changers. But Nebraska's opponents have all enjoyed some level of success against the Huskers, who're giving up 321.1 passing yards per game (126th nationally) and who have allowed 43 pass plays of 20-plus yards (128th). Watch out for Jones in the pass game — Purdue likes to get the ball to its backs in space.

Special teams

Nebraska's averaging just 15.8 yards per kickoff attempt, which ranks 125th nationally. Purdue's given up lots of kickoff return yards, though — 24.41 per attempt (110th). The Boilermakers have just 11 total punt return yards on five attempts. De'Mornay Pierson-El is starting to get back on track, though he's still not his old self just yet. Purdue kicker Paul Griggs has made three of his eight field goal tries. Drew Brown's hit his last four, all of which have been longer than 40 yards.

Intangibles

The Boilermakers have lost their last nine Big Ten games. They're just 1-18 in league play under coach Darrell Hazell. Not good. But they nearly upset Michigan State this month and battled against the Spartans last year. They lost a one-point game to Minnesota in 2014. This could be Purdue's chance at a momentum-boosting win. And this program knows it. A humbled and frustrated NU team better be ready to match the hunger and fire of these upset-minded Boilermakers.

Key matchup: Nebraska receivers vs. Purdue defensive backs

If indeed the injury to their starting quarterback is severe enough to knock him out of Saturday's game and the Huskers must turn to backup Ryker Fyfe, the NU receivers will need to step up. They've been up and down the last few weeks, making the tough catches look easy but also botching the routine ones. The Boilermaker secondary can be vulnerable at times. Nebraska needs to win the one-on-one battles, consistently.

Our take

It'll be a noon kickoff in a half-full stadium with nothing on the line but pride and hope. Both programs are in need of a win. They may be desperate to get it, too. Purdue's three years into a rebuilding process, so the pressure is mounting. Nebraska's sudden dropoff isn't something that its loyal fan base will tolerate long. It may be sloppy, it may be unconventional and there may be head-scratching mistakes. But somebody's got to win. NU's the one with more talent.

Our prediction: Nebraska 24, Purdue 21

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