Other than Ohio State, is Northern Illinois the best team left on Purdue's schedule? At the beginning of the season the opening eight games looked like a death march. Purdue had to face a conference champion (Cincinnati), three teams that played in BCS bowls (Notre Dame, Northern Illinois, and Wisconsin), the last two winners of the Legends Division (Michigan State and Nebraska), and the only undefeated team at the FBS level in 2012 (Ohio State).
Now that most teams have played four games already the remaining schedule does not look as daunting. Northern Illinois has a defense that is struggling to avoid shootouts against everyone. Nebraska's defense is also a joke, much like Michigan State's offense. There is the bizarre twist that Purdue has a hex on Ohio State at Ross-Ade Stadium this century, while Iowa, Penn State, Illinois, and Indiana look to all have some major flaws.
To make a bowl game in 2013 Purdue has to find a way to win five of these games. There have been flashes that it can be done. Purdue hasn't been a bad first half team (Wisconsin aside) and there have been a few glimpses, mostly in the Notre Dame game, of a decent football team.
It has to come together this weekend when Northern Illinois comes to town. No MAC team has ever beaten two Big Ten teams in one season. The conference is much better than perceived, but it is still an affront to our honor (or a mark of how bad things are) that the MAC is favored in a Big Ten Stadium. The Huskies are one of the best MAC squads in recent memory, but they can be beaten. Purdue needs this victory not just to keep some slim hopes of the postseason alive, but to show that something positive is being accomplished after last weekend.
|Keith Harris, Jr.||3||11||55||18.3||5||2||2||21||7||10.5||1|
|Keith Harris, Jr.||3||2||21||7||10.5||1|
Northern Illinois Offense Vs. Purdue Defense
You have heard about him before, but on Saturday we will finally get to see Jordan Lynch. The dynamic quarterback is not only the best player in the MAC, he is one of the best overall players in the country and an expert at running the read-option game. Last season he was stellar in leading the Huskies to a 12-2 season and berth in the orange Bowl. Along the way he set four NCAA records, two MAC records, and 14 NIU records as he rushed for 1,815 yards and threw for 3,138 yards. He topped 100 yards rushing in 12 games and was the first player ever to run for 1,500 yards and pass for 3,000. He threw for 25 touchdowns against only six interceptions and rushed for 19, narrowly missing the 20/20 club with only Tim Tebow and Dan Lefevour as members.
Purdue fans should be familiar with Lefevour, as we faced him three times. Lynch is better. He takes care of the football with only eight career interceptions and a 61% career completion rate. Already this season he has 404 yards on the ground with two scores and 662 through the air with seven scores.
Where Purdue has a big card to play is that Greg Hudson was the linebackers coach for a Florida State team that stopped him last year. In a 44-37 win over coach Hazell's Kent State team he had 160 yards rushing and three scores and 212 yards passing. Hudson, now our defensive coordinator, helped scheme an FSU plan that held him to 44 yards on 23 carries and 176 yards through the air. Of course, Florida State had much better linebackers, but the basic plan can still be there.
As expected, much of the offense centers around what Lynch can do. Cameron Stingily has been effective out of the backfield as well with 238 yards and three touchdowns. In 2009 Purdue struggled to stop Chandler Harnish and Chad Spann in a loss to NIU. Harnish and Stingily are better than those two.
NIU is going to run the ball. We know this, as they are averaging almost 300 yards per game so far, Tommylee Lewis already has 120 yards too, giving them three solid ballcarriers. They may not be as physically overpowering as Wisconsin, but they result will be the same unless the run defense tackles like it did vs. Notre Dame.
In the passing game Lewis (23-220-2) and Da'Ron Brown (19-248-2) are the only two targets worth worrying about. I am serious when I say that. They have a combined 42 of NIU's 63 receptions, with the other 21 spread among nine guys. Tight End Luke Eakes is a favorite red zone target with only four catches, but two of them are touchdowns.
Because Lynch is so mobile he doesn't get sacked much. His line has only given up tow sacks and 12 tackles for loss total.
Purdue Offense vs. Northern Illinois Defense
As powerful as the NIU offense is, the defense has been pretty bad so far. I would say that it means Purdue can finally get something going on offense, but I remember the struggle that was the Indiana State game. Though the Huskies are 3-0 with wins over Iowa, Idaho, and Eastern Illinois they feature one of the worst defenses at the FBS level. They are giving up 33.7 points per game, 173.3 rushing yards per game, and 317 through the air.
Just last week Eastern Illinois, and FCS team, threw for 450 yards and six touchdowns as Keith Harris Jr. only put NIU in front for good with 8:25 left in the game. This need to be the game where Rob Henry gets on track, but with NIU notching 14 quarterback sacks thus far it is not like he can expect a lot of time to throw.
Perez Ford is a bit of an undersized DE at 6' 218, but he is quick. He leads NIU with 3.5 sacks and is emerging as a disruptive force in the backfield. The best player on the defense might be safety Jimmie Ward. He leads the team with 30 tackles and a pair of interceptions as the senior leader of the defense.
Other than those two players this is a unit that plays a lot by committee, much like our own defense. They do like to sub in and out to give multiple looks. It hasn't been a great unit, but they have gotten stops when they needed to. Last week against EIU they forced a punt with five minutes left and Lynch got a few first downs to seal the game. Against Idaho the defense shut down the Vandals after they tied it 35-35 to start the fourth quarter. Against Iowa it was Ward who intercepted Jake Rudock with 1:30 left to all but seal that game.
Overall, NIU seems to be one of those teams that plays better with the lead. Purdue has struggled to gain leads period this year, failing to lead at all in two of the four games. The Huskies certainly have the offense to come from behind, but that offense is just as effective at playing keep away if it has the ball with the lead.
For good measure, Matthew Sims has an edge over Paul Griggs in the kicking game, as he is 7 of 8 on the season with a long of 51 yards. Tyler Wedel is also a pretty good punter on the rare occasion the Huskies have had to punt. He averages 42.8 yards per kick.
Paris Logan handles kickoff returns and averages just 21 yards per attempt. A.J. Sebastiano is a dangerous punt returner with an 8.5 average on six returns and a long of 44 yards. NIU has also covered kick returns well, negating any advantage that Raheem Mostert, Akeem Hunt, and B.J. Knauf give.
This is homecoming for Purdue, and the Purdue offense has got to find a way to wake up against a defense that can be thrown upon and will give up points. Idaho is terrible and scored 35 on these guys. An FCS team had 39 last week. Iowa is offensively challenged when not playing teams named Western Michigan and hung 27. This really needs to be the week that tests Henry's abilities and chances of being The Guy going forward. This is the worst pass defense remaining on the schedule. Either he gets it together or we need to look at someone else.
This is not your typical MAC team though. They are a confident bunch, having won 15 of their last 17 games. They have played in the bright lights of a BCS bowl and even won at a Big Ten stadium earlier this year. They know an undefeated season is very possible if they can get past Purdue because they cumulative record of their next five opponents is 4-16 before they host Ball State.
Purdue has got to come out and try to hit Lynch on every play. He is lethal with the ball in his hands, so it is better if we find ways to make him give it up. We have to hit him on the read option and keep him between the tackles. He doesn't make poor decisions, but they only have two receivers worth mentioning. It shouldn't be that hard to cover them. Unfortunately, I have seen our coverage and our secondary is battling injuries right now.
Regain some hope if:
- Lynch is kept under 100 yards rushing
- Purdue's offense finally wakes up
- Purdue's defense gets into the backfield and is disruptive
- Henry takes advantage of their secondary
- Purdue's running game finally gets on track
Prepare for 1-11 if:
- Lynch adds to a dark horse Heisman reel
- The offense continues to struggle against a bad defense
- Lynch continues to not make mistakes
- Henry is inaccurate as he has been
- Purdue's offensive line gets pushed around
Prediction: Coming in Friday's picks column.