Game Day: Nebraska vs. Purdue

Wake-up call

Slow starts continue to doom the Huskers. It's an alarming trend they'll need to snap out of to end this losing streak. Will Nebraska answer the wake-up call against Purdue?

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2-Minute Drill by Sam McKewon

Nebraska rush offense vs. Purdue rush defense

In a strange anomaly, Nebraska’s run game has struggled against Purdue. NU has averaged 3.52 yards on more than 200 carries in five games since 2013, bottoming out last season with 40 yards on 27 measly attempts. The Boilermakers have successfully slowed down pro-style offenses in recent years, and its grounding of Boston College last week was impressive. Safety Jacob Thieneman and linebackers Derrick Barnes and Cornel Jones are active and tough. Purdue’s run defense has struggled more against spread offenses, and Nebraska is armed with the best running quarterback Purdue has faced this season. Nebraska has to run Adrian Martinez as much as necessary, then get better performances from running backs Greg Bell and Devine Ozigbo, who didn’t get many chances at Michigan. NU’s offensive line has to step up. It hasn’t since Colorado.

Nebraska pass offense vs. Purdue pass defense

Purdue likes to keep its safeties back in coverage to prevent deep passes. If they creep up to slow down NU’s run game, Martinez should have a few chances to throw over Purdue’s mediocre cornerbacks. Last season — in a very different offense — Tanner Lee dissected the middle of Purdue’s defense, which was much better than this version. The Boilermakers’ pass rush doesn’t get home much unless they bring extra guys. But Nebraska’s receivers haven’t been great, either. The Huskers have to get more out of their tight ends and backups behind Stanley Morgan and JD Spielman.

Purdue rush offense vs. Nebraska rush defense

NU’s run defense was aces until a collapse of gap discipline and tackling at Michigan. Purdue isn’t going to have three tight ends on the field often — if ever — but Boilermaker backs DJ Knox and Markell Jones are every bit as good as Michigan’s. Freshman receiver Rondale Moore can also smoke a defense on a jet sweep. NU’s front seven should be in more familiar territory facing an offense similar to its own. Purdue quarterback David Blough will occasionally be involved in zone-read plays, but he’s more of a scrambler than a stud runner.

Purdue pass offense vs. Nebraska pass defense

Nebraska could take it on the chin here. Purdue’s spread attack, run by the veteran Blough, averages 318.3 passing yards per game. Moore, a receiver built like former Husker Ameer Abdullah, already has 33 catches for 372 yards and four touchdowns. He’ll line up everywhere. Tight ends Brycen Hopkins and Cole Herdman have NFL potential, and Nebraska may not have an outside linebacker who can easily cover them. Blough is a gamer who will start his fourth game against NU. Nebraska’s defense can get home with a pass rush, but it'll probably have to lean on man-to-man coverage to do it. Purdue is a tough cover.

Special teams

Nebraska’s special teams are a tire fire, and until NU gets back to mere mediocrity, every opponent will have the advantage. Purdue has Moore, a live wire in the return game, but kicker Spencer Evans has missed three field goals and two extra points.

Intangibles

How good can Nebraska feel about home-field advantage right now? It’s better than playing on the road, but the crowd will be nervous at kickoff, waiting to see anything good after that mess at Michigan. NU’s first-quarter starts have been awful, turnovers are an issue and Purdue has momentum after a big win over ranked Boston College. Nebraska will have to make its own luck.

Key matchup: Nebraska’s personal standard vs. Its inability to live up to expectations

Husker football has to start building from the ground up, creating good habits and playing soundly, regardless of the opponent. When and if Nebraska does that — this week, or the next, or the next – is when the season starts to turn.

Our take

Scott Frost isn’t panicking, nor should he. His team, if it follows his lead, will carry itself better Saturday and start creating an identity behind its strengths — a very talented running quarterback and a solid front seven on defense. Is that enough to beat Purdue, which despite its many weaknesses — especially against the pass — knows its identity? Nebraska will have to prove it first. The Huskers have the talent and the offense to beat the Boilermakers, and they beat a better Purdue team last year. Is Nebraska better than last year? That’s what we don’t know yet.

Our prediction: PURDUE 31 NEBRASKA 27

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