What? Three opponent previews within a week of each other? Well, things are really slow at work and with six teams to go (and only eight weeks until the season starts) I should really get in gear. I also did things out of sequence since I got my schedule mixed up and thought we played Illinois before Maryland. Ah well.
Today we get to preview the rare team that Purdue actually beat the last time the two schools faced each other! Purdue has yet to play Rutgers and is 0-1 against Maryland all-time. Against the remainder of the Big Ten Purdue has a losing streak against all 11 teams... except Nebraska.
If you're John Shoop this was your big moment, scoring 55 points against Nebraska. He even used it as vindication in his hilarious rebuttal of his firing by the New York Times. At least for one afternoon Purdue fans could feel good about something. Sure, it took a walk-on quarterback in his first ever start suffering a five turnover complete meltdown to happen. Also, we can't forget the penalty on a blocked extra point that was returned for two and called back, thus preventing Nebraska from having the ball down eight inside the final minute, but a win is a win.
One thing is for sure: Purdue cannot rely on a similar performance in Lincoln in 2016. The Boilers will still have to get better to get a second win in a row over Nebraska. By giving up 29 fourth quarter points Purdue tried as hard as it could to lose to Nebraska last season. Fortunately, the Cornhuskers were even more giving.
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
Head Coach: Mike Riley (99-87 overall, 6-7 in second year at Nebraska)
Last Season for the Cornhuskers:
Nebraska didn't lose exactly four games! Bo Pelini's penchant for losing four and only four games at Nebraska. His 7 seasons went as follows: 9-4, 10-4, 10-4, 9-4, 10-4, 9-4, 9-4 (the bowl game loss was not on his watch in his last season). That kind of success in West Lafayette would be dizzying, but in Lincoln this mediocrity is not to be tolerated.
Well, year 1 of Mike Riley wasn't great. Nebraska lost a ton of close games. BYU, Miami, Illinois, Wisconsin, Northwestern, and Iowa were all one possession losses. There was also the loss to Purdue, which was pretty horrid, especially when they turned around and upset Michigan State a week later. Nebraska did get to a bowl thanks to the 5-7 waiver and even won it, but overall it was a disappointing season.
The season was so disappointing that their infamous sellout streak is in jeopardy. They have sold out every home game since October 1962, but they have some seats open for this coming season. If the Purdue game ends up not being a sellout I think we claim that as another win.
While Purdue benefitted from Ryker Fyfe having just about the worst game I have ever seen from a quarterback, Purdue has generally done well against the player he replaced. Tommy Armstrong Jr. is back for his senior season after throwing for an impressive 3,030 yards and 22 touchdowns last year. His problem, as it has been throughout his career, is interceptions. He threw 16 of them last year and has 36 for his career. Purdue has often been the beneficiary of those interceptions as they have picked him off five times and he didn't even play against the Boilers last year. That's against only 1 touchdown pass.
Armstrong is also a solid runner with 400 yards and 7 scores last season. That's to be expected for a Nebraska quarterback though. He gets Terrell Newby (765 yards and 6 scores) back from last season as well. Nebraska rushed for more than 2,000 yards as a team last year and had pretty good offensive balance as a result.
Armstrong also gets back his top receiver, as Jordan Westerkamp returns. He was a Second Team all-Big Ten receiver with 65 receptions for 918 yards and 7 scores. Brandon Reilly (40-754-4) and Alonzo Moore (24-395-6) also return to give Armstrong plenty of options. As for the random tight end Purdue won't cover over the middle Cethan Carter (24-329-2) is also back. Let's also not forget D'Mornay Pierson-El, a dangerous speedster who succumbed to the Purdue ACL curse while celebrating a first half touchdown by a teammate.
Up front Armstrong was fairly well protected most of last season. His line gave up only 14 sacks, but loses 2nd Team all-B1G selection Alex Lewis. It is going to be a relatively young line. The depth chart I found has a pair of redshirt freshmen starting, but it is Nebraska. They always have linemen ready to go.
Nebraska gave up 55 points to John Shoop.
Yes, that sentence needs to stand on its own. Sure, Purdue was aided by five turnovers that led to scoring "drives" of 16, 22, 19, 6, and 45 yards, but 55 points from a Shoop designed offense is like dropping 100 on anyone else, especially against an actual Big Ten team. A redshirt freshman QB torched them for five total TDs (four passing, one rushing), so this defense clearly had some problems. (and yes, I know we just signed, as our own defensive coordinator, the coach that recruited many of those players).
Nate Gerry led the team in tackles with 79 including a sack and four interceptions. He gives them experience at safety, while fellow safety Aaron Williams also played a decent amount as a freshman last year. Chris Jones and Joshua Kalu combined for five interceptions at the corner spots, but as a team Nebraska had only 10 picks.
The Nebraska linebackers are not as fearsome as they once were. They were awful in pass coverage as teams threw for 3,777 yards and 25 touchdowns. They did do okay against the run, but Markell Jones and David Blough both had big days against them. Josh Banderas and Michael Rose-Ivey are at least experienced seniors, but overall this group must improve drastically.
Up front Freedom Akinmoladun (who might have the best name in the conference) led them with 4.5 sacks in 2015. Aside from him, there is not a lot of experience. Ross Dzuris and Kevin Maurice were mostly reserves last season ha twill now move into starting roles.
Nebraska Special Teams
Pierson-El, if he is 100%, is an incredibly dangerous weapon at punt returner. In 2014 He was a Second Team All-American when he had 596 yards and three touchdowns. Unfortunately, injuries limited him to five games last year, and he was severely limited at receiver as well. He could also serve as kick returner if healthy.
Drew Brown was one of the better kickers in the Big Ten, hitting 21 of 27 field goals last season. Sam Foltz also averaged more than 44 yards per punt, but only 15 of 67 were downed inside the 20.
Should we have some confidence because Purdue actually beat this team last year? I certainly made that mistake going into 2015. I thought that by beating Illinois in 2014 we should win at home and the Illini blew our doors off like every other mediocre team that came to Ross-Ade. I certainly don't see where Nebraska is going to be night and day better, but they don't need to be. Sure, they had 7 losses, but Purdue was their largest margin of defeat by only 10. They have the talent to get back to 9 wins just by limiting some mistakes.
We also can't forget just how bad Ryker Fyfe was against Purdue. He threw for 407 yards in a game where he racked up yards as Purdue played with a big lead, but he still was responsible for five turnovers.
This game is also at Nebraska. Purdue hasn't been a good home team under Hazell, but on the road it is 1-14.
Way Too Early Prediction
You know Nebraska thinks last year's loss was embarrassing. Purdue should be confident it can beat a team, but that confidence will be measured against how the early season goes. If Purdue can get off to a good start it absolutely has a chance to win here. That's a very big if, however. Nebraska 35, Purdue 21