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Nevada at Purdue Preview

Nevada cannot stop the run. Can Darrell Hazell figure that out?

NCAA Football: Nevada at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

After a week off our perception of Purdue football has not improved. For the first time in over two years Purdue enters a game as a favorite according to Vegas, but Purdue fans in the know would see that as easy money. In the 10 years of writing this blog I have never been less confident about a Purdue football team. If the Boilers lose this a 1-11 debacle almost seems certain because everyone else in the Big Ten has at least managed to look decent against an FBS team except for maybe Illinois. Let’s examine what’s wrong right now:

· Our quarterback has six interceptions in two games

· Our most consistent offensive threat has a banged up shoulder

· The offensive line cannot consistently run block

· There is absolutely no pass rush whatsoever

· The secondary is very green

· The defense cannot get a stop on third down at all

· Field goals are still an adventure

Other than that Purdue is a great team! Now it gets a strong running team in the form of Nevada, who has always been a respectable Group of Five team. Normally, Purdue should have an advantage, but this is not a normal Purdue team unless you consider what Hazell has done as the new normal. Many Purdue fans are wondering if Purdue can be salvaged to be respectable again by the time Nevada’s home game in this home-and-home comes around in 2009.

And this is before you realize they got Kendall Stephens from us!

2015 Record: 7-6, 4-4 Mountain West

2015 Bowl result: Won Arizona Bowl 28-23 over Colorado State

Blog Representation: Mountain West Connection, Silver and Blue Sports

Series with Purdue: First Meeting

Last Purdue win: None

Last Nevada win: None

Nevada So Far

The Wolf Pack is 2-1 as expected. They survived overtime against Cal Poly (an FCS team) in their opener before losing 39-10 at Notre Dame. Last week they ran all over a pretty weak Buffalo team 38-14. In that game the Wolf Pack rushed for 352 yards and were led by James Butler, who had 174 yards and three touchdowns.

Last season Nevada had no major wins of note. They lost at home to a ranked Arizona team and lost at Texas A&M for their only Power 5 games. They have had two straight 7-6 seasons with a bowl appearance and in four of their last five seasons they have done exactly that: 7-6 with a bowl appearance. In three of those years they lost said bowl game. Their best season was in 2010 when they were 13-1 with only a 27-21 loss at Hawaii.

Nevada’s last win over a Power 5 program came in 2014 when it beat Washington State. All-time, Nevada is only 1-4 against the Big Ten, beating Northwestern in 2006 when the Wildcats went out to Reno.

Who to Watch on Offense

James Butler – RB – When Darrell Hazell is saying “There was one play they kept running and we couldn’t stop it” on Saturday afternoon he will likely be referring to Butler. Butler might as well be wearing a sign that says “I AM THE PLAYER THAT WILL BE RUNNING THE FOOTBALL” to help out Dollar Bill Darrell. He has 347 yards and five touchdowns so far this season. Notre Dame held him to only 50 yards, but he went for 123 and two scores against Cal Poly and the above mentioned 174 and three scores against Buffalo.

Tyler Stewart – QB – Through three games Stewart has not had to do a lot, but he has been serviceable. He has 462 yards passing and three TDs against only one interception. This is primarily a running offense, however, and Stewart can run it a bit himself. He has completed over 64% of his passes and is an experienced senior that does not make too many mistakes.

Wyatt Demps – WR – if you’re looking for the wide open receiver on third downs it will likely be DEmps. He only has nine receptions, but they are for 88 yards and 2 TDs. He is also a physical mismatch for our defensive backs at 6’4”.

The Offensive Line – Purdue lacks a pass rush and Nevada has only given up two sacks, so yay!

Who to Watch on Defense

Alex Bertrando – LB – The 6’2 230 pound linebacker has an impressive 28 tackles through three games. He is a team captain and vocal leader for their defense. Overall, the defense has not done much. They have a worse pass rush than Purdue, if that is possible, as they do not have a single sack through three games (Purdue has one). The Purdue offensive line has not given up a sack yet, either.

Kendall Johnson – DB – Through three games Nevada has one interception, and that was by Johnson at Notre Dame. He also has seven tackles.

Jaden Sawyer – DB/LB – Sawyer is a bit of a hybrid in the defensive backfield and he leads the team with three tackles for loss so far. He has also broken up a team high three passes. This is combined with 13 tackles, so he is really all over the place.

Who to Watch on Special Teams

Alex Boy – P – Boy has been an excellent punter at 45.9 yards per punt. Eight of his 16 punts have gone for touchbacks, however.

Brent Zuzo – K – Zuzo is 3 for 4 on field goals, but his long is only 27 yards. He missed from 38, so Purdue’s struggles here kind of even out.

Overall Outlook

This is a strong running game against one of the weakest run defenses in America. Nevada is only 46th nationally at 208.3 yards per game, but I keep having flashbacks to that disastrous game against Illinois last year when they had a terrible running game and they ran wild on our defense. The Wolf pack really prefers to pound the ball on the ground and that can work to their advantage. They can wear Purdue down while keeping the ball out of the hands of our offense. In the passing game they rank only 101st nationally at 186.3 yards per game.

Fortunately, Nevada is not good against the run defensively. They are worse than us at 124th nationally. They give up 284.3 yards per game on the ground, so a smart coaching staff would feed them a steady diet of Markell Jones, Tario Fuller, and David Yancey. Here is where I don’t trust Hazell, however. This is an area of clear, overwhelming weakness from an opponent and for most of his Purdue tenure Hazell has failed to exploit said weaknesses.

Conversely, Nevada ranks 8th nationally in pass defense at only 132.3 yards per game. Part of this comes from being so putrid against the run, but there is some legitimate talent in the defensive backfield even if there is no pass rush.

It is pretty clear that Purdue needs to gear up to stop the run and it needs to run the ball until Nevada proves it can stop us. Can Hazell & Co. figure that out, however?