Just two weeks ago Purdue went on the road against the team leading the Big Ten West and played them tough before losing by a single point. Minnesota was a strong read-option team with a single loss against one of the teams (TCU) battling for a spot in the college football playoff.
This week is a bit of a repeat. Nebraska also has a single loss to a playoff contender (Michigan State) and still has some very faint hope of reaching it themselves. They also have a strong read-option game and one of the best (if not THE best) running backs in the nation. Their offense is more diversified and more powerful than Minnesota's, and they boast a strong home field advantage that will be difficult to overcome.
This is going to be a rough one. Purdue is improved, but it is going to take a special afternoon so spring an upset in Lincoln.
Who to Watch on Offense:
Ameer Abdullah - Running back - Purdue has already faced some great running backs and will face some more good ones. Abdullah might be the best. He leads the nation with 1,249 yards and 17 touchdowns, meaning he averages over 150 yards and two scores per game. He also has 169 yards and two touchdowns as a receiver and, for good measure, another 272 yards on kickoff returns. Abdullah is pretty much the definition of the workhorse back with 180 carries on the season.
For Purdue, it is clear that Abdullah is going to get his yards. David Cobb, Thomas Rawls, and Jarvion Franklin have already gained more than their fair share against our defense. Abdullah is better than all there of them, and those three are in the top 9 nationally in yards. Purdue's job is to make sure he has a mere average game and not a special one.
Tommy Armstrong Jr. - Quarterback - Armstrong has settled nicely into the starter's role and is a dual threat much like Mitch Leidner two weeks ago. He is excellent at knowing when to keep and when to hand off to Abdullah. Armstrong has 501 yards and three touchdowns of his own on the ground to go with 1,709 yards and 12 TDs along with six interceptions.
Kenny Bell - Wide Receiver - Bell is quite a receiver and is part of an effective one-two punch that prevents teams from stacking the box against Abduallah. Bell ahs 33 catches for 572 yards and two touchdowns.
Jordan Westerkamp - Wide Receiver - Westerkamp's stats are almost identical to Bell's with 30 catches for 542 yards and four scores. When the Cornhuskers do choose to throw it almost always goes to Westerkamp or Bell. Covering both will be difficult, especially with Abdullah still being a danger on every play.
Who to Watch on Defense:
Randy Gregory - Defensive End - With 5.5 sacks, 11 quarterback hits, and 33 tackles Gregory is one of the best defensive players in the entire conference. It is hard to believe that he could be playing on our side, but he de-committed because we got rid of Danny Hope. Last year he had himself a game in West Lafayette, and once again he will cause terrible havoc if we can't block him.
Zaire Anderson - Linebacker - The linebacker leads the Cornhuskers with 52 tackles, eight of them for loss. He seems to get everywhere the ball is on defense.
Nate Gerry - Defensive Back - The 6'2" sophomore was on the Big Ten all-freshman team last season and already has three interceptions this year. He also has 45 tackles and is capable of getting into the backfield with four tackles for loss.
Who to Watch on Special Teams
Drew Brown - Kicker - Brown has been solid as a kicker, hitting 9 f 13 attempts with a long of 44 yards. He has struggled from distance, however.
De'Mornay Pierson-El - Punt returner - The most dangerous punt returner in the Big Ten has two touchdowns on 26 returns and a 15.2 yards per return average.
If I am Purdue, I am very concerned. This is a versatile offense with multiple weapons that are going to be difficult to stop. Minnesota only had three plays and one receiver, but they ran those three plays to perfection and racked up 39 points on us. What will Nebraska do? Purdue's only saving grace last season was three interceptions. Even then, the Boilers lost 44-7 and had their only score on the game's final meaningful play.
The Boilers have at least found a way to fight this year, even in games where they looked severely overmatched. Purdue had no business staying close with Notre Dame or Michigan State, but they fought hard. So far, that has been Purdue's saving grace.
Nebraska is still awfully good. The Purdue defense has really only had one excellent day and that was against Iowa. Even then, it was only for three quarters. This is a much better offense than the Hawkeyes have. They are also still alive in the race for the Big Ten West and would be hard pressed to drop a game at home against one of the bottom teams in the Big Ten.
I can see Purdue getting in a shootout here. There are some concerns with the Nebraska defense as it does give up more than 20 points per game and has been somewhat vulnerable against the pass. Purdue's offense has been on a roll of late too. It is getting a ton of production on the ground, but the passing game struggled against Minnesota and Michigan State. As we have seen, Akeem Hunt and Raheem Mostert are big play threats that can score as long as they get some space. So far, Purdue is creating that space. Can Purdue score enough and can the defense get enough stops, however?
Keys to the Game for Purdue:
- Prevent Abdullah from going completely berserk
- Find a way to slow the read-option
- Cover Bell and Westerkamp
- Tackle Armstrong when pressured
- Keep Gregory from getting to Austin Appleby