Know Thy Opponent 2013: Nebraska Cornhuskers

Eric Francis

Purdue plays Nebraska for the first time in 55 years on October 12.

It has been 55 years since Purdue and Nebraska has met on the football field. Despite being entering their third year in the Big Ten, Nebraska and Purdue have virtually no history on the gridiron. They met only once, on September 27, 1958 when the two teams kicked off that season at Ross-Ade Stadium. Purdue won easily 28-0, over a Nebraska team that went on to finish 3-7. Purdue went on to go 6-1-2 and finished second in a bizarre Big Ten.

Purdue was 3-1-2 against the conference that year, losing to Wisconsin and tying Ohio State and Indiana. Iowa went to the Rose Bowl with a 5-1 record, losing only to Ohio State, while the Buckeyes were 4-1-2 (yes, they played seven conference games to Iowa and Purdue's six) and Wisconsin was 5-1-1 (losing to Iowa). Strangely, four teams finished with only one league loss, and two of them played one less league game.

Though we haven't seen Nebraska in a very long time we should get used to seeing them. After next season we'll be in the Big Ten West with them, assuring a yearly meeting. If Darrell Hazell can repair the damage inflicted by Danny Hope and the Nordfense it is hoped we can battle them for some divisional crowns very soon.

2012 Record: 10-4, 7-1 (Leaders Division Champions)

Bowl Result: Lost to Georgia 45-31 in Capital One Bowl

Blog Representation: Corn Nation

Series With Purdue: Purdue leads 1-0

Last Purdue win: 9/27/1958

Last Season for the Cornhuskers:

Brutal is an apt word to describe Purdue's early Big Ten slate this year. While three of the last four games come against the three worst teams in the conference last season, Purdue must begin league play with a team that has been to three straight Rose Bowls (Wisconsin), the defending Leaders Division champ (Nebraska), The 2011 Leaders Division Champ (Michigan State) and the only undefeated team in the nation from 2012 (Ohio State).

To most outsiders any Purdue victory in that four-game stretch is unlikely. Beating Nebraska can be done, however, if we somehow figure things out very quickly on offense. While they were hardly the famed Blackshirts on defense, the Cornhuskers were at least respectable. In all 10 victories they held opponents to 28 points or less. Northwestern came the loses, losing 29-28 after blowing a 28-16 lead with 7 minutes left.

In the losses, however, the Nebraska defense was awful. UCLA won in the Rose Bowl 36-30 early in the season, while Ohio State and Wisconsin blasted the Huskers for 63 and 70 points, respectively. Georgia rang up 45 points on them in the bowl game, so the key is to somehow score over 30 points.

Nebraska Offense

They don't run the famed option as much anymore, but this is a very good running team lead by senior quarterback Taylor Martinez and junior running back Ameer Abdullah. Both rushed for more than 1,000 yards last season and combined for 18 touchdowns. The elusive Martinez is one of best running QBs in the Big Ten, probably only second to Braxton Miller at Ohio State. Imani Cross has also already emerged as a replacement for Rex Burkhead, who rushed for 675 more yards despite being hampered by injuries. Cross had 324 yards and seven touchdowns in a reserve role and will very likely play more.

The passing game has always been where Martinez has struggled. He threw for 2,871 yards and 23 touchdowns against only 12 interceptions last year. Those are career bests, but Nebraska fans are still wary when he goes to the air. He was picked off twice against Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship game and three times by Ohio State.

Junior wide receiver Kenny Bell returns after leading the team with 50 catches for 863 yards and 8 touchdowns. The 6'1" receiver will be a handful for Ricardo Allen, but if Allen can contain him that will help greatly against the pass. Quincy Enunwa (42-470-1) and Jamal Turner (32-417-3) give Martinez his top three receivers back from last season.

The offensive line is very experienced with a host of seniors at the starting spots ready to plow the road in the running game. Jeremiah Sirles was a second team all-Big Ten selection at tackle last season while Spencer Long was a first-team selection at guard. They are the building blocks for what should be an excellent front five. Even then, Martinez was sacked 35 times in 2012.

Nebraska Defense

Eric Martin, Will Compton, and Daimion Stafford were second-team all-Big Ten last season but they have all departed from a defense that was stout at times and porous at others. Wisconsin ran for an astounding 539 yards in the Big Ten championship game after being held to just 56 yards in the first meeting in Lincoln. That is one of the most drastic reversals in college football history. One in every five yards given up on the ground by Nebraska in 2012 came in the Big Ten championship game.

The Cornhuskers will practically be starting over from scratch up front with only Thad Randle returning on the front four. Stanley Jean-Baptiste is one of the few other returning starters along with Josh Mitchell and Ciante Evans. Those three played extensively in the secondary with Jean-Baptiste grabbing two interceptions, but there will be a lot of new faces.

Look for promising recruits such as Josh Banderas, Zaire Anderson, and Marcus Newby to get a look. A familiar name may also be called a few times on October 12th too. Randy Gregory originally committed to Purdue out of Hamilton Southeastern High School near Indianapolis and held his commitment through an injury at Arizona Western Community College, but switched to Nebraska before signing day. He was a four-star defensive end that was one of the top JuCos in the nation and he was a major loss for Purdue. He can start immediately at Nebraska.

Nebraska Special Teams

Brett Maher did it all last season for the Cornhuskers, hitting 20 of 27 field goals with a long of 54 while punting for a near 42 yard per kick average. He is gone, however, opening up the kicking game for Mauro Bondi.

Both Abdullah and Bell handled kickoff duties last season, but Abdullah may step back since he is now the featured back. He was also a dangerous punt returner averaging 13.1 yards per return with a touchdown.

Game Outlook

With every other opponent on the Purdue schedule there is a recent history. Even Cincinnati has played us this century. We know that Wisconsin can blow us out with their physicality while we strangely match up with Ohio State better than anyone else in the conference. Though this is a conference game, it feels like a non-conference game because of the complete lack of any history.

It is my hope that the matchup with Ohio State gives us a clue because we have handled Braxton Miller and Terrelle Pryor very well as running quarterbacks. We did well against both, while Denard Robinson at Michigan, another QB similar to Martinez, danced around us. Your guess is as good as mine then.

I do think that Nebraska's offense has a massive edge, however. For the most part Purdue was awful against the run and until I see us play with live, functional Big Ten linebackers I am going to think teams can run all over us. Linebacker play has been mediocre at best for about a decade in West Lafayette. As a result, running backs have big days against us.

The Purdue offense needs to have a few things figured out by this point as well. The defense wasn't great last year and it will have a lot of new players. Considering some of the brutal defenses we have before this game it will be a bit of a break. Can Akeem Hunt and Brandon Cottom have success against it? Will Danny Etling or Rob Henry be able to take advantage of the secondary?

Prediction

Purdue must slow the running game and capitalize with its own offense. We haven't done that with any consistency in years and our offense is the biggest question mark we have. Because of that I have to pick Nebraska. Nebraska 34, Purdue 21

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