We have had quite the eventful week, haven’t we? The old regime is dead, and now Gerad Parker has the unenviable task of preparing a team to beat a top 10 Nebraska on the road in his first game as a college football head coach. He only gets a week to do so, unlike whomever takes over at Purdue in December. They get an entire offseason to figure out how to stop Lamar Jackson in next season’s opener against Louisville (my strategy: try to find a minor NCAA violation that gets him suspended for a game).
Purdue faces some very long odds here. Purdue is a 23.5 point underdog with good reason. Even last year’s win over Nebraska does not give me a ton of confidence. That was more Ryker Fyfe suffering a complete meltdown than Purdue outplaying the Cornhuskers. Strange things can happen, though A week after losing to Purdue last season Nebraska went home and stunned eventual Big Ten champion Michigan State.
2015 Record: 6-7, 3-5 Big Ten
Bowl result: Beat UCLA 37-29 in Foster Farms Bowl
Blog Representation: Corn Nation
Series with Purdue: Series tied 2-2
Last Purdue win: 10/31/2015 at Purdue 55-45
Last Nebraska win: 11/1/2014 at Nebraska 35-14
Nebraska Thus Far:
The Cornhuskers are a perfect 6-0, but they haven’t exactly been running roughshod against the SEC West. They won predictable blowouts over Fresno State and Wyoming before edging a ranked Oregon team 35-32. As it turns out, Oregon just isn’t good this year. The Ducks have fallen pretty far and are definitely not a top 25 team.
In conference play Nebraska is 3-0 against Northwestern, Illinois, and Indiana, with Indiana being the best of those teams by far. They were pushed in all three games, too. They only led at Northwestern 10-7 at the half. Against Illinois the Illini led 16-10 going into the fourth quarter before giving up 21 unanswered points. At Indiana the Hoosiers were down just 17-15 entering the fourth quarter and 24-22 with 8:26 left before the Cornhuskers went on a game-clinching field goal drive that took 7:41 off the clock.
Nebraska so far looks like a team that has avoided all land mines and has advanced as others above them have been knocked off. Are they really the No. 8 team in America? We will likely see in the second half as they still have to play Wisconsin, Ohio State, and the east champion to win the league. Their schedule gets real after Purdue with Wisconsin and Ohio State in back-to-back road games.
Who to Watch on Offense
Tommy Armstrong Jr. – QB – Since joining the Big Ten Nebraska quarterbacks have been very, very generous to Purdue. Last season Fyfe was responsible for five turnovers in his start while Armstrong was injured. In a pair of starts against Purdue Armstrong threw three interceptions in 2013 (Nebraska still won 44-7) and two in 2014 (Nebraska still won 35-14). Purdue has struggled against dual-threat QBs and Armstrong is probably the best such QB we have faced or will face. He has 1,359 yards passing and 10 TDs against only four picks as well as 329 yards and 5 TDs on the ground.
Terrell Newby – RB – Newby is not an Ameer Abdullah in terms of being a dominating Nebraska runner, but he is still good with 429 yards and 4 TDs on the season. Devine Ozigbo also plays quite a bit and has 320 yards and 4 TDs. Last season Newby was limited to 56 yards on the ground against Purdue, but our run defense, as we know, is awful.
Jordan Westerkamp – WR – Westerkamp is one of the Big Ten’s best receivers with 13 receptions for 228 yards and 4 TDs, but he missed the last game due to injury and is probably out against Purdue. That is only a good thing for us, as last season he had 9 catches for 123 yards and a TD. Stanley Morgan Jr. leads the team with 16 receptions for 228 yards and a touchdown.
Ross Els – Purdue Defensive Coordinator – Let’s remember that Els was the former linebackers coach at Nebraska and he was much maligned on his way out of town. He has a familiarity with the personnel, but given his struggles this season in stopping the run I am not sure that helps much.
Who to Watch on Defense
Kieron Williams – S – Williams leads the Cornhuskers with 43 tackles to go with two interceptions. He leads a secondary that has 11 total interceptions on the year, including three each from Aaron Williams and Chris Jones. Teams are passing for only 203 yards per game against the Cornhuskers, while Purdue has the best statistical passing offense in the Big Ten.
Ross Dzuris – DE – This man has the best facial hair in the Big Ten.
If we hired a mustache like that we’re winning the national title next season. He is also a pretty good pass rusher with 3.5 sacks to lead Nebraska.
Nathan Gerry – S – Gerry often plays up in run support and has a team high seven tackles for loss. He has 37 tackles overall and a pair of interceptions.
Who to Watch on Special teams
Drew Brown – K – Brown is a pretty accurate kicker, going 5 of 6 on the season and a perfect 26 for 26 on PATs.
De’Mornay Pierson-El – PR – Pierson-El tore his ACL last season at Purdue, but he is back as a dangerous return man averaging more than 10 yards per punt return.
Sam Foltz – P – Just pouring one out here for Foltz, the senior punter that was killed this offseason in a traffic accident along with Michigan State’s Mike Sadler.
If you’re encouraged by the fact that Purdue is at least going to be unpredictable and try something new this week, there is reason to be. Nebraska is 3-0 in the league, but hasn’t exactly slammed the door on teams. All three opponents have hung around for most of the game including Illinois, a team Purdue actually beat. The Cornhuskers are still rushing for over 200 yards as a team, however, and Purdue has yet to hold a Big Ten opponent under 300 yards on the ground.
The fact that Westerkamp is likely out is also a benefit to Purdue. This is not a strong passing attack and Purdue has been… okay against the pass. Still, it has to find a way to stop the run. I don’t know what Gerad Parker has up his sleeve to do that, but it needs to be priority one when Nebraska has the football. There is no reason for Nebraska to do anything other than run the ball until proves it can stop them, then they should keep running because as we have seen, a stop is likely a fluke.
Nebraska’s defense overall is holding teams under 20 points per game and has 14 sacks. It goes up against an offensive line that has kept David Blough clean for the most part (ignoring the Maryland game, which was a disaster). Purdue’s line must create space for the trio of talented running backs, however. After running all over Illinois Purdue couldn’t move the ball at all on the ground against Iowa, then had to abandon the running game because it was down four touchdowns.
That is going to be critical for any upset chances. Purdue is going to have to get an early score for some confidence. If it falls down 14-0 or 21-0 in the first quarter again it is over. Last week Nebraska went up 17-0 on Indiana after a quarter. The Hoosiers fought back, but we haven’t seen a Purdue team fight back from that in years.
I am encouraged simply because Parker is in charge and it is something different. Hazell clearly was not working and there is talk of a new energy in practice this week. Maybe that will help a lot. It certainly won’t make things worse. I think we will see a looser Purdue team than under Hazell that plays like it has nothing to lose. Nebraska is still an awfully good team, however. It is going to take a lot for Purdue to win this game, but if Illinois can hang with them and lead going into the fourth quarter in Lincoln, Purdue might be able to do something.