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Purdue (0-0) vs. #16 Louisville (0-0) Preview

The Louisville offense is scary good. Can Purdue keep up?

NCAA Football: Louisville Spring Game Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

On the way into work today I was curious about Purdue’s non-conference record in recent seasons against Power 5 Teams. It is not good (not that our record against anyone outside of the FCS has been good).

Here is how Purdue has done against teams from the ACC, SEC, Pac-12, Big 12, and Notre Dame in the last 12 years:

9/19/2015 vs. Virginia Tech L 51-24

9/13/2014 vs. Notre Dame (Lucas Oil Stadium) L 30-14

9/14/2013 vs. Notre Dame L 31-24

1/1/2013 vs. Oklahoma State (Heart of Dallas Bowl) L 58-14

9/8/2012 at Notre Dame L 20-17

10/1/2011 vs. Notre Dame L 38-10

9/4/2010 at Notre Dame L 23-12

9/12/2009 at Oregon L 38-36

9/25/2009 vs. Notre Dame L 24-21

9/13/2008 vs. Oregon L 32-26 (2OT)

9/27/2008 at Notre Dame L 38-21

9/29/2007 vs. Notre Dame W 33-19

Yep. It has been nearly 10 years since we have beaten a power conference opponent, and even then it was the worst Notre Dame team of all-time, as the 2007 Irish started a delicious 1-9. Since then, Purdue is 0-11 against power conference teams outside the Big Ten. It has had some near misses. The series with Oregon was a pair of extremely fun games. The loss at Notre Dame in 2012 stings because of the whole “Why did Danny Hope send Caleb TerBush back in while Robert Marve was hot?” question. For the most part Purdue has been blown out though, and it has not like we have rolled through delicious MACtion cupcakes (9-5 vs. the MAC in that time, but two bowl wins!). If you consider Cincinnati a near major conference team the record falls to 0-13.

The good news is that Purdue gets two more shots against power conference teams this year in Louisville and Missouri. The first one will be the toughest. Louisville Cardinals

2016 Record: 9-4, 7-1

Bowl Result: Lost 29-9 to LSU in Citrus Bowl

Blog Representation: Card Chronicle

Series with Purdue: Tied 0-0-1 (only meeting was a 22-22 tie at Purdue on 9/19/1987)

Last Purdue win: None

Last Louisville win: None

Head Coach: Bobby Petrino (109-43, 67-22 at Louisville)Louisville Last Season

I guess you could say that Louisville already has a loss to Purdue this calendar year. On New Year’s Day Danny Etling and LSU had a dominant 29-9 win over the Cardinals in the Citrus Bowl. That victory was atypical of Louisville’s offense, however. The Cardinals were in the picture for the national championship up until late season losses to Houston and Kentucky. It averaged 42 points per game, 242 yards rushing, and 290 yards passing. The defense wasn’t exactly horrid, either. It gave up just under 24 points per game (more than good enough for that offense) and was particularly stout against the run at 115 yards per game. Those are numbers we would be doing backflips over if Purdue put them up.

As good as Louisville is, they had some pretty major weaknesses. In the Houston and LSU losses the offensive line showed that it was pretty bad. In Bill C’s SB nation preview some of the things that really stand out are the offensive radar numbers:

Holy hell, that average third down distance! Then again, that is right where teams have wanted Purdue for years before an easy 3rd and 21 completion over the middle for 25 yards. Any chance Purdue has in this game will come from getting to the quarterback early and often. That is far easier said than done, however.

Who to Watch on Offense

Lamar Jackson – QB – he is only the reigning Heisman Trophy winner and the most dynamic player in all of college football. He just ran for 1,571 yards and 21 TDs while throwing for 3,543 yards and 30 TDs against 9 INTs. You know, no big deal. I mean, how do you even prepare for a guy like this aside from, “hit him on every play no matter what”? LSU and Houston showed that if you have a dominant defensive line you can get to him. He was sacked a lot last year (47 times), but all that did was slightly diminish numbers that don’t even look real outside of a video game. This is a guy that was sacked 47 times and still had a 5,000/50 year of total offensive yards and TDs. It borders on obscenity what he did to teams.

Reggie Bonnafon – RB – Is he a receiver? A running back? A wildcat quarterback? Bonnafon is a 6’3” senior that came in as a dual-threat quarterback, caught 5 touchdowns last season as a receiver, and has more than 600 yards rushing as a running back in his career. As if Jackson wasn’t enough of a handful, now we have to stop this large man from careening out of the backfield with the football. Oh, and he has enough QB experience that him pulling up to throw after a handoff is possible.

Jaylen Smith – WR – The 6’4” junior receiver was often the fourth option last season and he still had 27 receptions for 599 yards and 6 touchdowns. Now he is No. 1 with the top guys all gone. Purdue does not have the size to match up with him on the outside, so once again, our best option is a pass rush that can at least disrupt Jackson (bfore he breaks containment and runs for 30 yards, that is).

Jeremy Smith – RB – Another big back, Smith rushed for 382 yards and 8 touchdowns last season. We can expect a lot of read option. Jackson is not only good, he has at least four good running backs he can hand off to. This is an offense that ran at will on teams last year and we have a defense that absolutely could not stop the run last season. Yeah, I am scared too.

Who to Watch on Defense

James Hearns – DE – Hearns led the team last season with eight sacks and 43 tackles. He also forced five fumbles. We have a redshirt freshman making his first start at left tackle and we might have a sophomore making his first start at quarterback. You can see why this is a problem.

Trumaine Washington – CB – he was better in 2015 when he had 10 pass break-ups, but he is still a very good cover corner that will be going against an inexperienced group of receivers. The good news is that overall the secondary struggled last year, and hopefully David Blough or Elijah Sindelar can test it. That’s what we’re relying on here. We need to get into a shootout and get after Jackson on defense.

Stacy Thomas – LB – With 85 tackles, and interception, and two fumble recoveries, Thomas is the team’s top returning linebacker. He can get into the backfield as well with 7.5 tackles for loss. Louisville has the luxury of not needing a lights out defense. They just need a unit good enough to hold a lead and stay out of the offense’s way. They excel at teeing off against teams forced to play catch up because the offense builds up a lead.

Who to Watch on Special Teams

Jaire Alexander – PR – Yikes. If Purdue is forced to punt Alexander may keep the offense off the field anyway. He had 195 punt return yards last season on 19 returns and even took one back for a score. Kick away from him, Joe Schopper, whatever you do.

Mason King – P – When called upon (which wasn’t often) Mason King averaged almost 44 yards per punt with 14 of 55 punts going for over 50 yards.

Game Outlook

The story of the game is Louisville’s offense. It is scary. If it was facing last year’s Purdue defense that refused to put its best players on the field at the same time we would be in for a nightmare. I am not kidding when I say they would put up 70 without breaking a sweat on the Ross Els defense. Think back to the Maryland game, where Purdue gave up 400 yards on the ground and its best tackler was the goal line.

Fortunately, Purdue has a competent defensive plan now. Danny Ezechukwu, Markus Bailey, Ja’Whaun Bentley, and T.J. McCollum are being put in positions to thrive as the strength of the team and not on the sideline because we’re running an absurd 4-2-5. That might be enough to hold Louisville under 50 (no guarantee, however).

Offensively, we don’t even know who is starting at quarterback. David Blough’s shoulder injury in camp and the ascendance of Elijah Sindelar in camp has cast doubt on what was once thought of as a lock. Jeff Brohm has said multiple QBs will play, but that really doesn’t say much. We already knew Jared Sparks would likely get a few snaps in his special package, but will both Blough and Sindelar play as well?

This is a daunting task ahead of us. Louisville is a multi-touchdown favorite with good reason. Purdue’s defense is going to have to be night and day better from last year just to have a chance. I trust coach Brohm to get the offense going, but even then, Jackson is Jackson. Just about the only way I see Purdue winning is if he has a completely awful game, Purdue’s offense is way ahead of schedule, and it becomes a crazy 52-49 shootout. That’s very unlikely. A 49-24 Louisville win is much more likely.