After reviewing the first eight opponents of the season I can say that the next two games are against teams that Purdue will likely struggle quite a bit against. Even against Michigan State, Purdue played well last season. Nebraska and Wisconsin, however, stomped Purdue and figure to again in 2014 with another high powered rushing attack that has been so difficult for us to stop.
At least with Nebraska I will get to see it in person. The quest I started in 2001 to see Purdue play in every Big Ten stadium takes another step this year, as I am planning on heading to Lincoln to see us take on Nebraska. Sure, it likely will not be pretty, but at least I can add Memorial Stadium to my list.
2013 Record: 9-4, 5-3 Big Ten
Bowl Result: Beat Georgia 24-19 in Gator Bowl
Blog Representation: Corn Nation
Series With Purdue: Tied 1-1
Last Purdue win: 9/27/1958 28-0 at Purdue
Last Nebraska win: 10/12/2013 44-7 at Purdue
Last Season for the Cornhuskers:
Last season was up and down for the Cornhuskers, but it may have set the stage for a very big year in 2014. Mostly, they beat the teams they should have beaten and lost to the ones they should have lost to. UCLA, Minnesota, Michigan State, and Iowa were all pretty good and Nebraska still capped the season with nine victories and a bowl win, but that is not enough in Lincoln. They needed a miracle pass to beat Northwestern and the best win (aside from the bowl game) was either Penn State or Michigan.
Against Purdue it was not pretty. The Boilers never even reached the red zone and only scored on a 55-yard TD pass to DeAngelo Yancey with 39 seconds left. We were not playing Wisconsin, but the dominance of Nebraska's running game was a lot like playing the Badgers. Even thought the Boilers came up with three interceptions it mattered very little. Purdue was outgained 435-216, outrushed 251-32, and Randy Gregory made it is his personal mission to remind us what we missed by firing Danny Hope.
So what is in store this year?
The Cornhuskers aren't quite the triple option monster they were for decades under Tom Osbourne, but they are still a team that is going to be damn good at running the football. We know what is coming, but the question, as always, is can we stop it? Last year we did not as Ameer Abdullah ran for over 100 yards with ease and Nebraska had no trouble moving the football except for the rare occasions they chose to pass.
Nebraska is going to be very good again. They have gone at least 9-4 or 10-4 in each of the past six seasons as one of the most consistent teams in America (but int he eyes of many Nebraska fans, it is not enough). They also have Abduallah back as perhaps the top running back in the country. He had 1,690 yards on the ground and a high usage rate of 281 carries with nine touchdowns. Imani Cross often cleaned things up with 10 touchdowns on 447 yards, while Tommy Armstrong, Jr. can run the ball well with 235 yards from the quarterback position.
That QB position also appears to be settled in Armstrong's favor. The sophomore split time almost evenly with Ron Kellogg III and the injured Taylor Martinez last season. Purdue also gave him one of his roughest days as he was 6 of 18 for 43 yards and three picks before Kellogg took over. Since he is all that is left the Cornhuskers are going to rely on Abdullah even more, if that is possible. Armstrong completed only 52% of his passes and had nine TDs against eight INTs.
At receiver Kenny Bell should be pretty good after a down 2013 season. He still had 52 receptions for 577 yards and some of his struggles may have come from the quarterbacks throwing him the ball. Jordan Westerkamp and Sam Burtch also give some depth at receiver. Cethan Carter is also a big tight end that will be difficult to defend.
One benefit for Purdue is that the Nebraska offensive line needs to be completely rebuilt. Jake Cotton is the one returning starter at left guard and has just 11 starts. There are plenty of juniors and seniors to fill in the other empty spots, but they are juniors and seniors that have been riding the bench for some time. That makes everything a mystery according to the big SB Nation preview:
In 2014, the line starts over. Gone are five players with 125 starts on their résumés. Cole Pensick was all-conference in 2013, and Jeremiah Sirles and Long were all-conference in 2012. This was an effective, experienced unit. In theory, as many as four seniors could start this year, but they're four seniors with barely a year of starting experience between them. We'll get to see just how good Abdullah is this year, I guess.
If there is a team that knows about line struggles even with four seniors, it is certainly Purdue. I don't think Nebraska will be nearly as bad as Purdue was last year, but a struggling line can certainly hamper things.
Let's talk about Randy Gregory, shall we? He might be the top defensive end in college football and he is inexplicably playing for the Cornhuskers instead of Purdue. He committed to us out of high school, didn't make it academically, and stayed committed through two years of junior college only to back out when Danny Hope, that recruited him, was let go. He even had three years of eligibility left because of an injury during his JuCo term, so he would be extremely valuable right now.
He is the lone returning starter on the defensive line and is a great one with 52 tackles, 16 for loss, and 9.5 sacks. He had multiple sacks last season with a fumble recovery and a safety, so it was extremely frustrating to see him terrorize us. Vincent Valentine and end Greg McMullen are expected to play alongside him, but Gregory could easily replicate Ryan Kerrigan's final season in West Lafayette in terms of being a rampaging beast against teams.
All three starting linebackers return with David Santos, Michael Rose, and Zaire Anderson giving them both talent and experience. All three can make plays in the backfield and are solid enough to make sure there are not any major issues.
Like the defensive line, the secondary has to be entirely rebuilt because three starters are cone. The one returning starter, safety Dorey Cooper, may have been the best of them, however, as he had 71 tackles and still managed two sacks plus an interception. He'll have to help a replacement crew make up for Ciante Evans and Stanley Jean-Baptiste who combined for eight interceptions. If there is protection up front the Purdue passing game might be able to gain at least a little ground, but that is a big if.
Nebraska Special Teams
All the major players on special teams are back, providing important continuity. Mauro Bondi technically was not the top kicker in 2013, but he was still 7 of 8 on extra points and made his only field goal attempt. Sam Foltz was also a solid punter.
In the return game Bell and Westerkamp handled kicks and punts, respectively, and Bell was a danger with a kickoff return for a touchdown. As always, we should have an advantage here because of the Raheem Mostert and Akeem Hunt combo.
Nebraska could not ask for an easier home schedule, as Miami (FL) is the only really, really good team that comes to Lincoln. They could not ask for four easier home Big Ten games in Illinois, Purdue, Rutgers, and Minnesota. This is a team that is going to challenge for the West Division crown as long as it can at least split road trips with Michigan State and Wisconsin.
This is not going to be an easy game for us. On paper, the Cornhuskers have to replace a lot of proven players on both sides of the ball, but their backups could have started for us last season and they still have two excellent guys to build around in Abdullah and Gregory. Both of those guys are infinitely better than our two best guys, and that is a big problem.
We know they are going to run the ball. We just have to stop it. For almost 10 years we have been unable to stop a good running team from moving the ball on the ground against us. Unless the incoming freshmen prove to be much better than advertised I don't expect it to happen this year.
If I may borrow a term from the guys over at Boiled Sports, this is probably a game you can put in Sharpie. It would take a monumental, unexpected effort for Purdue to win this game on the road. The defense would have to play out of its mind. On offense, well, we can't really play much worse than we did last year against them. Nebraska 45, Purdue 10