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Penn State at Purdue Preview

Can Purdue catch Penn State napping after a massive upset?

NCAA Football: Ohio State at Penn State Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

I have a good feeling about this game. Sure, that probably does not mean much, but I was greatly encouraged by last week’s performance in Lincoln. Purdue has alternated good games and bad games this season, so that should mean the Boilers are due for a bad game, but even this summer the Penn State game felt like the annual “Nebraska out of nowhere” game where Purdue rises up and pulls out a win. Penn State absolutely should win this game. They are the better team with more talent. Purdue did show me something last week, however. I don’t think they are going to roll over and die.

As usual, it is going to take a complete performance from Purdue to get a win here. There can’t be turnovers. There can’t be a complete lack of running game. There is going to have to be a second half offensive posh. The defensive line is going to have to be disruptive and still develop some depth so the mainline guys can get a rest. Even then, the Penn State that has played on the road probably needs to show up.

The good news is that the Nittany Lions are ranked. Purdue has not defeated a ranked team since beating No. 25 Illinois during the 2011 season. The Boilers need to see this as an opportunity, and because Darrell Hazell is not involved there is a real chance this could happen.

2015 Record: 7-6, 4-4 Big Ten

Bowl result: Lost to Georgia 24-17 in TaxSlayer Bowl

Blog Representation: Black Shoe Diaries

Series with Purdue: Penn State leads 13-3-1

Last Purdue win: 10/9/2004 at Penn State 20-13

Last Penn State win: 11/16/2013 at Penn State 45-21

Penn State Thus Far:

Through seven games Penn State has been good at home and pretty bad on the road, so it is a good thing that this game is in West Lafayette. A slow start at Pitt led to a 42-39 loss in a game that dares not be spoken of as a rivalry. The Nittany Lions also got completely blasted by Michigan, but Michigan is doing that to everyone this year.

At home, things have been different. Minnesota had them on the ropes before Penn state won 29-26 in overtime. That was after Penn State hit a 40-yard field goal to tie the game with two seconds left. Last week was the biggest win in quite a while as they upset No. 2 Ohio State 24-21 on a blocked field goal returned for a touchdown. Predictably, Penn State fans fired up the weepy sonata music about “the incredible hardships they have unfairly endured”, so we will leave it at that.

Penn State fans are riding high right now. The Ohio State victory means they can get on a run and still win the Big Ten East as long as Michigan drops a game. The potential for a three-way tie between Michigan, Ohio State, and Penn State is certainly there, but the Nittany Lions need to get there, first.

Who to Watch on Offense

Saquon Barkley – RB – Barkley is one of the Big Ten’s best running backs and the best Purdue has faced to date. He has 681 yards and eight touchdowns as he is well on his way toward a thousand yard season. Just two weeks ago he dropped 202 yards on the same Maryland defense that held Purdue to 10 rushing yards. Last week Penn state won with him only getting 12 carries, but he still had 99 yards. Against Pittsburgh he also had 85 yards and 4 TDs. Purdue has to maintain its improved run defense shown against Nebraska or Barkley will thrash us.

Trace McSorley – QB – If Barkley isn’t running the ball McSorley can do it. He is the team’s No. 2 rusher with 249 yards and 4 TDs. No one else on the team has more than 60 yards. McSorley has been decent, but not spectacular in throwing the ball with 1,590 yards and 9 TDs to go with only three interceptions. His completion percentage is 55.5%. Look for him to spread the ball around quite a bit, as he has four receivers between 18 and 27 catches for 238-364 yards.

Offensive Line – At times the Penn State offensive line has been pretty bad, but it is much improve from the unit that gave up 39 sacks last season. So far they have only given up 15, but McSorley can be pressured. It will be critical for Purdue to slow down Barkley and get pressure on McSorley.

Who to Watch on Defense

Garrett Sickels – DE – Sickels is fourth in the conference with five sacks and has been regularly in the backfield with seven tackles for loss. The Purdue offensive line has done an effective job of protecting David Blough, but the Maryland game is always in the back of my mind.

Marcus Allen – S – it is usually not a good thing when your safety is leading your team in tackles, as it normally means they are being made well down field. Allen leads the team with 63 tackles and four for loss. Penn State is surprisingly weak against the run, so this may be the week to get Markell Jones going again. They give up 203 yards per game on the ground, which is only better than Purdue and Rutgers in the Big Ten. Purdue and Rutgers are just atrocious against the run, however, while Penn State is merely bad.

Pass Defense – Purdue features the Big Ten’s best passing offense against a pass defense that ranks 5th in the conference. The Nittany Lions give up only 183 yards per game through the air while Purdue averages over 300. The biggest difference for Purdue is in the area of turnovers. Blough leads the conference with 2,065 yards, but he is also tied for the conference lead with 11 interceptions.

Who to Watch on Special Teams

Tyler Davis – K – Davis might be the Big Ten’s best kicker, as he is 11 of 12 on field goals and has a long of 40, which was the kick that tied the Minnesota game. He has yet to miss an extra point.

Blake Gillikin – P – The punter averages over 41 yards per kick and has downed 14 of 36 kicks inside the 20.

Kick Defense – A huge reason that Penn State won last week was a blocked punt and the blocked field goal that was returned. The blocked punt set up a 4th quarter field goal and the blocked field goal was the difference. That was a 13 point swing on two blocked kicks.

Game Outlook

Aside from the Ohio State game, Penn State has been rather middling all year. They fell behind big at Pitt before storming back, while Michigan just beat them up for three hours. The Nittany Lions were lucky to beat Minnesota at home, and even the Temple game was close throughout. Teams can run on Penn State, which is a shocking statement considering their linebacker history. They don’t really have that fearsome linebacker that has become a trademark of their program.

I do fear Barkley though. The Purdue run defense is very poor even if it was better last week, so that means Barkley could be in line for a monster game. If he gets moving downhill early Purdue is in serious trouble. Like Nebraska, Penn State has kind of owned the fourth quarter with 69 points scored. Given the lack of depth on the defensive line, especially with Jake Replogle still questionable, that is a concern.

For Purdue to win this it will have to come out and get an early lead. It can’t play from behind like it has so many times. It needs to maintain the energy and confidence shown last week and also do what Hazell’s team never could: play with energy at home. If Purdue can avoid turnovers and get an early lead the Nittany Lions just might be caught looking ahead. Getting Markell Jones, Brian Lankford-Johnson, or Richie Worship on track would really help too.