I almost feel like I have to do a countdown here. A few weeks ago I wrote about how Purdue could be the worst Big Ten team in recent memory. That was before getting shutout twice and managing only 14 points against Iowa. As things stand now, Purdue needs to score 45 more points in three games to best 1981 Northwestern as the worst offensive output in Big Ten history (conference games only). That team scored 75 points in 9 conference games. Purdue has 31 points in five so far. Purdue is also within striking distance of the 505 points given up by that team, as Purdue has given up 335 in nine games.
Barring a miraculous turnaround, Purdue is definitely approaching some historically awful numbers. The seven game losing streak is the longest since Purdue lost the final nine games of the 1993 season to go 1-10. If Purdue does finish 1-11 on a 10-game bender it will be the first times since 1908 that Purdue has lost that many in a row. That mark was achieved by going 0-5 in both 1906 and 1907 before losing the season opener in 1908.
Just a few weeks after that, the Chicago Cubs won their last world series, so we're sort of on a Cubs-like level of failure right now. The next opponent is one that has been decimated by NCAA sanctions and has nothing but pride to play for until 2016, but they are still 5-4 despite having less than 60 scholarship players (Purdue has 84).
Penn State Offense vs. Purdue Defense:
Penn State's offense isn't great by any means, but they will face a Purdue run defense that ranks 112th in the nation. They are pretty balanced with about 260 yards passing against 167 yards rushing per game. That number is impressive, especially when you consider they barely had over 70 yards rushing against Indiana of all people. I am not quite sure how that happened, but this is a team that can power run well with Bill Belton (715 yards, 4 TDs) and Zach Zwinak (576 yards, 9 TDs). Even No. 3 option Akeel Lynch would very nearly be Purdue's top rusher.
The Nittany Lions have decided to go with freshman Christian Hackenberg from day 1 and the 5-star recruit has not been bad at quarterback. He has 2,187 yards and 13 touchdowns against eight interceptions and is completing close to 60% of his passes. He has been vulnerable to sacks (21 in nine games), but for the most part has done very well.
His top target is Allen Robinson, who is one of the best receivers in the Big Ten with 73 catches for 1,106 yards and six touchdowns. Given Purdue's proclivity to completely disregard covering guys like Robinson I think he could be in for a big day. Robinson is far and away the first, second, third, and fourth option in the passing game. I would be fine with double teaming him the entire day, but most likely he will be completely open on any route, especially on third and long, because it would be too intelligent to focus on the obvious game-breaker.
We likely can't expect a lot of help when it comes to turnovers. Penn State is +7 in that category for the season while Purdue is -7. The offensive line has only two seniors in John Urschel and Ty Howle, so if Purdue is going to generate a pass rush this is the week for it. As I said above, the line has given up 21 sacks. Purdue only has 12 on the season, but an improved pass rush will help greatly.
Purdue Offense vs. Penn State Defense:
Even if Purdue's defense has its best day possible and performs to the level it did at Michigan State, where it only gave up seven points, do we really trust our own offense to score more than twice in order to get the win? C.J. Olaniyan, with four sacks, will be in line for a big day because of Purdue porous offensive line and defensive tackles DaQuan Jones and Kyle Baublitz should have little trouble clogging the middle.
Penn State wouldn't be Penn State without a solid linebacker, and Glenn Carson (72 tackles, four for loss, and two pass break ups) is serving in that role this year. Still, Penn State has been more vulnerable than usual to opponents running the ball. They are giving up 155 yards per game on the ground and have surrendered 15 touchdowns. That's not great, but Purdue has three rushing touchdowns (none from a running back) and is second only to Washington State (who barely rushes at all) in yards per game on the ground at 68.1 per game.
The pass defense is okay at 232.7 per game, as Penn State has a respectable secondary. Jordan Lucas has a pair of interceptions and Malcolm Willis has been pretty solid at safety. Trevor Williams and Lucas are both sophomores on the corners, so Danny Etling may be able to test them a bit if he has time to throw.
The defense may not be great, but it has performed well at home. Kent State and Eastern Michigan combined for only seven points and it is entirely possible they are both better than Purdue because they can both at least run for over 150 yards per game. As long as Penn State adopts a strategy of "wait for the Purdue offense to screw up" it should be fine.
It is the usual "Yay Punting, Boo everything else" for Purdue. The Boilers haven't attempted a field goal in the last two games and have made one since September 28, so having the suddenly reliable Sam Ficken (13 of 18) on the sidelines is a bonus for Penn State.
Neither team has done much in the punt return game, but Akeem Hunt and Raheem Mostert might be Purdue's best threats to score with their speed and experience on punt returns. Mostert has been a disappointment, but Hunt has one TD on a return already this year.
I think it is safe to say all optimism has been beaten out of the Purdue football fanbase. There was even still some last week when Purdue had an actual drive going and looked like it might tie Iowa late in the third quarter, only to have Mostert lose a fumble. That led to a 24-point outburst from an offense that coming in was only better than our own.
For the rest of the season, save possibly the Illinois game, our opponent does not need to do anything special if it wants to win. It simply needs to wait for our offense to screw up and take advantage of a defense that cannot stop the run and is often out of position against the pass.
Penn State isn't great, but they are far from awful. Purdue's only win barely came over a team that can definitely qualify awful. Indiana State is 1-9, was missing its best player, and Purdue still needed a last minute interception to win that game.
The script for this one only changes if the offense finally wakes up after nine games. Penn State's defense isn't great, but Purdue has proven time and again that it can't even move the ball against bad defenses. The Nitts also have Belton and Zwinak, who can pound our defense into fine powder.
Enjoy the first Big Ten win in almost a year if:
- Haceknberg plays like a freshman
- Belton and Zwinack are held in check
- We have the presence of mind to actually cover Robinson
- Purdue unexpectedly wakes up offensively
More of the same if:
- Robinson catches passes for 175 yards and three scores
- Belton and Zwinak grind out drives
- Cody Webster punts more than five times
- Purdue plays like Purdue