It is a big weekend of events at Purdue starting Friday night. Not only is the Volleyball team trying to sell out Mackey Arena for the match against Illinois, but a music legend is performing at Elliott Hall of Music that makes me wish I was free to go up.
That's right, the one and only Weird Al Yankovic is coming to Purdue, complete with a 7pm screening TONIGHT at the Eastside 9 theater in Lafayette with Q&A of his 1989 classic film UHF.
This could legitimately be the greatest weekend Purdue has seen since Neil walked on the moon.
Compared to all that, Saturday's football game is almost a letdown. As will likely be the case the rest of the season, Purdue is a heavy underdog to a team with bigger aspirations on the season. For the Cornhuskers Purdue is merely a speedbump. They reached last season's Big Ten championship game and Saturday is supposed to be an easy win on their way to a return to Indianapolis.
What they didn't count on is my presence. You see, Saturday is the day of my birth, and Purdue may be 1-3 on October 12 within my lifetime, but the Boilers are 1-0 at home:
Purdue's performance on T-Mill's birthday (since 1979)
10/12/1985 vs. Illinois W 30-24
10/12/1991 at Minnesota L 6-3 (yes, Purdue lost 6-3 two years before losing 59-56 at Minnesota. Jim Colletto was AWESOME!)
10/12/1996 at Penn State L 31-14
10/12/2002 at Illinois L 38-31 OT (I hated this game, as I was there and we got screwed).
It is the first time in 28 years Purdue is at home on my birthday and Danny Etling is getting the first career start of what could be a very memorable career. Also, not only has Nebraska never beaten Purdue, they haven't even scored a point against us (Purdue won the only meeting 28-0 in 1958). If all goes well an upset could happen.
|Tommy Armstrong Jr||3||103.0||20||28||71.4||304||101.3||10.9||3||0||18||79||26.3||4.4||0||-||-|
|Ron Kellogg III||3||113.0||15||20||75||211||70.3||10.6||1||0||4||15||5||3.8||0||-||-|
|Tommy Armstrong Jr||3||18||79||26.3||4.4||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Ron Kellogg III||3||4||15||5||3.8||0||0||0||0||0||0|
Nebraska Offense vs. Purdue Defense
Purdue is giving up 183.2 yards on the ground, better than only Illinois and Indiana in the Big Ten. That is not what we want when facing a Nebraska team that rushes for only nine yards less per game than the same Wisconsin team that shredded us a few weeks ago. Coach Hazell has not ruled out changing things. He has mentioned Evan Panfil, Ra'Zahn Howard, and Jake Replogle as freshmen defensive linemen that may lose their redshirts and play. Bruce Gaston is also moving outside to DE instead of playing inside at DT as he has for the previous three and a half years. Greg Latta is also likely out with an injury.
That means Purdue will have a restructured defensive line trying to stop one of the country's better running games. Ameer Abdullah is now second in the Big Ten in rushing with 690 yards and five touchdowns, trailing Melvin Gordon by only eight yards. Abdullah torched Illinois last week for 225 yards and has been getting better as the season has gone along. Imani Cross (274 yards, 6 TDs) provides a solid second option and Terrell Newby (229 yards) makes them a three-headed monster just as potent as Wisconsin.
Up front the backs have an experienced line with Andrew Rodriguez, Spencer Long, Jeremiah Sirles, and Cole Pensick as senior linemen clearing the way. They are very good at what they do, as the Cornhuskers have given up only two sacks in the first five games.
At quarterback we're likely going to see redshirt freshman Tommy Armstrong Jr., who was solid last week against Illinois with only 135 yards passing, but two touchdowns. He has played extensively I the last two games and has 304 yards passing and three touchdowns against no interceptions. Normally it is a good thing when a four-year starter like Taylor Martinez is out, but Armstrong has played well in his absence and can run a bit with 79 yards rushing. Martinez had a 9-to-1 TD-to-INT ratio before his turf toe injury, so the Huskers have gotten excellent play from the quarterback position overall.
At receiver the Huskers have two good ones in Kenny Bell (22-255-3) and Quincy Enunwa (21-282-6). Enunwa is leading the Big Ten in touchdown catches and both are in the top 10 in receptions for the league.
This is a very tough offense that will more than challenge Purdue's defense, which has been pretty awful in the last two games. After three solid quarters against Notre Dame Purdue couldn't stop the run at all against Wisconsin and couldn't stop much of anything against Northern Illinois. The Huskers are as good as or better than both of those opponents. Purdue likely gets Taylor Richards and Frankie Williams back, but the front seven has to perform light years better than it has so far.
Purdue Offense vs. Nebraska Defense
Purdue will get a glimpse of what might have been on Sunday when Nebraska's defense takes the field. Randy Gregory, who leads the Huskers with six tackles for loss and 25 overall, twice committed to Purdue (both out of high school and out of junior college) before switching to Nebraska after Danny Hope was fired. He has been looking forward to this game and there have been some mild shots taken at the Boilers, such as him saying that Purdue was, "not a hard place to play at".
The wild card is Etling. The freshman came in against Northern Illinois and had success despite a crippling pick-six. He finished with 241 yards and his first two career touchdown passes and gave Purdue a different, more lethal look in the passing game than Rob Henry did in four and a half games.
Etling should have some success against Nebraska, which has struggled against the pass despite four interceptions from Stanley Jean-Baptiste and three from Ciante Evans. As a team Nebraska has 10 picks and three returned for touchdowns by Jean-Baptiste, Evans, and Gregory, respectively. Purdue has thrown three pick-sixes so far, so the Boilers have to find a way to avoid this crippling play.
Nebraska ranks ahead of only Northwestern in the Big Ten in pass defense, giving up 262.8 yards per game. The numbers are skewed a bit since Wyoming threw for 383 yards in the season opener and UCLA hit them for 294 in their only loss. Purdue's passing game was far better against Northern Illinois at 371 yards, but much of that came because the Boilers trailed big for most of the afternoon. Also, four interceptions and a fumble meant only 24 points were scored.
Still, it was encouraging that Purdue's offense moved the ball better two weeks ago than it did at any point before playing NIU. At least it was mistakes killing Purdue that can be corrected instead of three-and-outs, as it was against Cincinnati, Indiana State, and Wisconsin. Nebraska's run defense is also giving up 182 yards per game, so maybe this is the game where Purdue gets Akeem Hunt and Dalyn Dawkins on track for more than a few plays.
Neither defense has been very good, but Purdue's offense has been the one much more prone to mistakes. That is dangerous going against a defense that has created 12 turnovers while only giving up seven. Purdue, meanwhile, has turned the ball over 11 times and has only generated six turnovers. For Purdue to have a chance those numbers need to be reversed.
I am very happy to see that Paul Griggs has settled into the kicking job and has connected on some long field goals. He is now 5 of 8 on the year and has hit three in a row. Cody Webster also continues to boom the ball at 45.3 yards per kick, which is the best in the Big Ten. He even had 10 of his 27 punts placed down inside the 10, giving Purdue the likely First-Team all-Big Ten punter.
Sam Foltz is having a good season punting for Nebraska at 42.2 yards per kick, but placekicking duties have been split between Pat Smith (3 of 3, long of 32) and Mauro Bondi (1 of 1, long of 22). Those thee have combined to miss three extra points, so Purdue may have an edge in the kicking game.
Bell is averaging over 30 yards per kickoff return for Nebraska, while Hunt and Raheem Mostert continue to be solid threats to break one for Purdue.
We could be in for a shootout here with two defenses that have struggled. Unfortunately for Purdue, the Nebraska offense is a well-oiled machine while Purdue's offense has sputtered for a good portion of the season. Etling got it moving with regularity against NIU, but mistakes were still costly. Purdue can't have five turnovers again if it wants to keep with Nebraska. More likely it can't afford more than two.
Once again, we know the run is coming, just like against Wisconsin. The Cornhuskers don't do anything fancy. They like the read-option and Abdullah is getting better and better every week. He has to see what Gordon did against Purdue and get excited because he is a very similar type of back. At this point it is up to Purdue's front seven to find a way to stop it. It becomes even more painful as a fan when you see it coming and yet a team like Purdue continues to struggle to stop it.
I do like that Etling is getting the start, however. I think he can keep Purdue in this one at least for a little bit because the offense feels more open with him. He is getting receivers Dan Monteroso and Danny Anthrop back too, while he had a nice connection with DeAngelo Yancey. The exciting thing about any success he has with the skill players is that every single one returns next season.
Jordan Roos is also expected to start at right, marking the first of the freshmen offensive linemen to crack the starting lineup. Purdue's senior-dominated line has been very poor for most of the season, and it appears coach Hazell is changing things up unlike his predecessor. If we see some marked change on Saturday it will be very exciting for the future because it is likely Purdue will only start three seniors total on offense (Kevin Pamphile, Devin Smith, and Justin Kitchens).
It comes back to Purdue's defense, however. We've seen flashes of good play, but conversions on Third and long and breakdowns against the run have once again been the norm. There just is not a lot of confidence that they can slow down a very good offense like Nebraska's.
Buy T-Mill a birthday drink if:
- The defense looks drastically better against the run
- Etling plays mistake-free in his first start
- Hunt and Dawkins get the running game moving
- Purdue wins the turnover battle
- Armstrong plays more like a freshman than Etling
The losing continues is:
- Abdullah becomes Melvin Gordon 2.0
- Armstrong continues his solid play
- Gregory causes havoc in the Purdue backfield
- Etling throws multiple interceptions
- Purdue in general can't stop the run
Prediction: Coming in Friday's Big Ten preview.