Game Day: Nebraska vs. Purdue

A lot riding on it

As the calendar flips to November — when temperatures drop and games are often won in the trenches — it's time for the Huskers to put all their chips on the offensive line.

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2-Minute Drill by Sam McKewon

Nebraska rush offense vs. Purdue rush defense

NU’s run game is a curiosity, as it statistically does pretty well — 193.63 yards per game and 4.31 yards per carry — but gets a lot of quarterbacks hurt doing it. The Huskers’ offensive line quietly played one of its better games against Indiana and has potentially rounded into shape for a decent end to the season. The Huskers could stand to get Dedrick Mills more involved in November, even if Wan’Dale Robinson is the best back right now because of his quickness and ability to set up defenders in a small space. For a defense missing its two best run-stopping defenders to injuries — Lorenzo Neal and Markus Bailey — Purdue still fights hard to stop the run, and did a nice job against Iowa in a 26-20 loss. Illinois, though, bullied the Boilermakers with 242 rushing yards. Purdue is playing its sixth straight game and the defense may very well be on its last legs.

Nebraska pass offense vs. Purdue pass defense

It appears Adrian Martinez will play at Purdue — he says he’s ready to go, at least — so that brings more of NU’s deep passing game into action. The short passes are currently excellent, with screens and short crossing patterns producing more than 100 of the 294 passing yards against Indiana. Noah Vedral and Luke McCaffrey both have the goods to throw the ball in NU’s offense, and the Huskers are healthy and productive enough at receiver — Robinson and JD Spielman lead the way — to be effective when the offensive line protects the quarterback. (Which it did against Indiana.) Purdue’s pass defense has allowed a 67.7% completion rate to five Big Ten foes. Only Maryland has been worse in league play. NU should have a strong day of offense in West Lafayette if the weather cooperates.

Purdue rush offense vs. Nebraska rush defense

Purdue averages 2.37 yards per carry and 68.83 rushing yards per game. Even if the Boilermakers try to run, they’re very often not successful. They also lack a quarterback run element that could keep a defense off balance. That said, Purdue ran for 123 yards against Minnesota, 127 against Maryland and 135 against Illinois. Freshman King Doerue (289 yards) is the top ballcarrier. Nebraska’s run defense has been vulnerable throughout Big Ten play but posted one of its better games against Indiana. None of Purdue’s available quarterbacks — Jack Plummer and Aidan O’Connell are the top two — pose much run threat, so NU should succeed in making the Boilermakers one-dimensional.

Purdue pass offense vs. Nebraska pass defense

The Boilermakers do have one pretty good offensive dimension, and Jeff Brohm knows how to coach a passing game. Purdue has topped 300 yards passing in four of its eight games. Tight end Brycen Hopkins (34 catches, 441 yards) is one the Big Ten’s best, and freshman receiver David Bell (44 catches, 653 yards) is as good this year as Rondale Moore was last year. Moore has been hurt for more than a month, and it’s not clear if he’ll return to play this week. Purdue’s bowl chances being slim, it may not be worth it to Moore to rush it. After a season-ending injury to quarterback Elijah Sindelar earlier this season, Plummer took over. Brohm has been frustrated with some of Plummer’s mistakes — he took a lot of sacks at Penn State and threw a pick-six against Illinois — but the kid has arm talent. O’Connell could see some snaps, too, against a Husker pass defense that lacks a consistent pass rush and the ability to stop third-down routes. Perhaps NU’s blitz can put heat on Plummer/O’Connell and get some sacks.

Special teams

Nebraska didn’t have its best week against Indiana, with another missed field goal, a bad punt and a kickoff out of bounds. But at least there weren’t any special teams penalties. Purdue’s return games are awful without Moore, and its kicking game isn’t much to write home about. Both teams are very young, which plays a role in the mediocrity on the field. Still, Nebraska has to prove it can win this phase.

Intangibles

Nebraska’s pretty amped up right now, the opposite of complacent after Scott Frost gave the team a good ripping for the Indiana loss. Purdue feels like a “last stand” kind of environment, and, with the game being at noon two days after Halloween on the college campus of a 2-6 team, you can bet the crowd will be ... sparse. Having no energy or excitement in the stadium played against NU four years ago, by the way. Not good. Purdue’s youth and injuries may mean its season is on the brink of complete collapse.

Key matchup: Nebraska’s run game vs. Purdue’s front seven

Illinois’s easy 24-6 win over the Boilermakers pointed the way: If Nebraska can run the ball at Purdue, it’s going to be a win. NU may be reluctant to involve Martinez or other quarterbacks too much in the run game, but at 4-4, whatever it takes, right? Purdue’s offense is too one-dimensional and young to run up 30, so if the Huskers’ offense does its part, a win is coming.

Our take

A gloomy October is over. Nebraska lost two games in the month, and the defense was particularly ugly. A trip to Purdue, which has been overwhelmed by injuries, may be the tonic Husker football needs to break out of a two-game losing slump. While NU will have to create its own energy at Purdue — no hostile crowd awaits — the Huskers have plenty to play for, and seem on better terms with each other in order to do that. Nebraska is in a little bit of a bad spot, but Purdue is in a worse spot, and Martinez is back (presumably). It’s enough for Nebraska in a Big Noon Fox Kickoff game that has few of the trappings of a big game.

Our prediction: NEBRASKA 31, PURDUE 24

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