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Purdue at Nebraska Preview

Purdue faces a critical road game against a wounded Nebraska team.

NCAA Football: Nebraska at Purdue Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

After last week’s impressive win over Boston College Purdue is riding high heading out on a two game road trip. Yes, things could and probably should have gone better to start the season with four straight home games, but at least we recovered to get our first win over a ranked team in 7 years. The victory broke an 18-game losing streak against ranked teams that included the following:

10/29/2011 at #17 Michigan L 36-14

11/5/2011 at #5 Wisconsin L 62-17

9/8/2012 at #22 Notre Dame L 20-17

10/20/2012 at #7 Ohio State L 29-22 (OT)

10/14/2013 vs. #21 Notre Dame L 31-24

11/2/2013 vs. #4 Ohio State L 56-0

9/13/2014 vs. #11 Notre Dame L 30-14

10/11/2014 vs. # 8 Michigan State L 45-31

11/1/2014 at # 17 Nebraska L 35-14

11/8/2014 vs. #25 Wisconsin L 34-16

10/3/2015 at #2 Michigan State L 24-21

11/14/2015 at #24 Northwestern L 21-14

11/21/2015 at #6 Iowa L 40-20

10/22/2016 at #8 Nebraska L 27-14

10/29/2016 vs. # 24 Penn State L 62-24

11/19/2016 vs. #6 Wisconsin L 49-20

9/2/2017 vs. #16 Louisville L 35-28

9/23/2017 vs. #8 Michigan L 28-10

10/14/2017 at #7 Wisconsin L 17-9

There are a lot of the usual suspects on there such as Wisconsin (4 times), Notre Dame (3 times), and Michigan State (3 times), but our next opponent appears on that list twice. Purdue has only played in Lincoln twice before this Saturday and both times it was against a ranked Cornhusker team. The Huskers controlled Purdue pretty easily in 2014, but the 2016 game was very interesting. Nebraska entered that game undefeated and in the top 10, while Purdue was 3-3 and had just fired Darrell Hazell. Somehow the Boilers led 14-10 at halftime before fading in the second half under interim head coach Gerad Parker.

Since then the Huskers have fallen on hard times. Last season they were 4-8 before firing Mike Reilly, and that included a last minute 25-24 win at Purdue. In fact, that is their last win to date. Nebraska enters this game riding a 7-game losing streak for the first time since 1957 when they finished 1-9. They are 0-3 for the first time since 1945. Finally, they have never lost eight games in a row.

That is not to say this is an automatic victory for Purdue. This is a school with a very rich and proud history. They are playing at home and they are a little desperate. It won’t be easy.

2017 Record: 4-8, 3-6 Big Ten West

Bowl Result: None

Blog Representation: Corn Nation

Series with Purdue: Nebraska leads 4-2

Last Purdue win: 55-45 at Purdue on 10/31/2015

Last Nebraska win: 25-24 at Purdue on 10/28/2017

Head Coach: Scott Frost (0-3 in first season at Nebraska. 19-10 overall)

Had Purdue won last season’s game the Huskers would be on a 10-game slide, and it definitely felt like a game Purdue let get away. The Boilers led 24-12 early in the fourth quarter after a Jackson Anthrop touchdown, but Tanner Lee led a pair of scoring drives for the win. He found Stanley Morgan Jr. for the winning TD with 14 seconds left and Nebraska escaped. Lee shredded our secondary for 431 yards and it was death by papercuts as the Huskers had four field goals before the two fourth quarter touchdowns.

Who to Watch on Offense

Stanley Morgan Jr. – WR – The 6’1” receiver loves playing against Purdue. Last year he had 6 catches for 112 yards and the game-winning score. In 2015 as a freshman he had 3 catches for 26 yards and a score. This season he has been a big play threat with 13 receptions for 200 yards and a score. He was a Second team all-Big Ten selection last season with nearly 1,000 yards.

Adrian Martinez – QB – Martinez has split time with Andrew Bunch at quarterback and neither has been great. Martinez, a freshman, started the opener vs. Colorado and was 15 of 20 for 187 yards and a TD before leaving with an injury. He missed the Troy game, but was 7 of 15 last week against Michigan. He has 209 yards passing and one score on the season, but has been an effective runner with 105 yards rushing and a TD. Discipline in the RPO game with him will be key.

Greg Bell – RB – Bell leads the Huskers with 171 yards on the ground but has yet to find the end zone. Overall the ground game is quite diverse at 185 yards per game. Bell, Maurice Washington, and Devine Ozigbo have each contributed. Unfortunately, Nebraska is currently 106th nationally in total offense with 354 yards per game. In scoring it is even worse at 118th (19 points per game). That has them above Rutgers in the Big Ten, but that is not an accomplishment.

Who to Watch on Defense

The story so far has definitely been the lack of offense for Nebraska. Part of that is skewed by having only three games and one against a great defense in Michigan, but they didn’t exactly light up the scoreboard against Troy and Colorado. Half of their offensive output on the season came against the Buffaloes. The defense has been okay, but not great. They are 75th nationally at 380 yards per game given up and 115th in points at 37.7 per game. That is, again, only better than Rutgers in the Big Ten.

Mohamed Barry – LB – Barry leads the team with 26 tackles, making him the only player on the roster over 20 tackles. He also has 4 tackles for loss and a sack.

Luke Gifford – LB – While Barry has handled almost everything inside, Gifford has been pretty good on the edge. He has 16 tackles with five for loss and 2.5 sacks.

Freedom Akinmoladun – DE – The senior defensive end was on the all-Big Ten freshman team a few years ago and he already has 2.5 sacks this year in his final season. He is an experienced pass rusher that has performed well on the edge of the defense.

Who to Watch on Special Teams

Special Teams has been a small sore spot for Purdue this year. A short missed field goal and extra point were costly against Eastern Michigan. Last week Purdue missed another extra point and a 21 yard field goal. We need to clean those up.

Caleb Lightbourn – P – Lightbourn has been one of the best punters in the conference so far. He averages 43.4 yards per kick and has a long of 52 yards.

Barret Pickering – K – Pickering is in his first season as kicker and he is 3 of 5 on field goals. He only has a long of 35 yards, but Purdue’s long on the season is only 38 yards.

Game Outlook

Purdue clearly has the more powerful offense here, and David Blough loves playing against Nebraska. Here are his numbers in three previous starts against the cornhuskers:

2015: 28-43, 274 yards, 4 TDs, 0 INT, 82 yards rushing, TD

2016: 25-43, 309 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT, -21 yards rushing

2017: 16-28, 164 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT, 33 yards rushing, TD

That’s more than 800 yards through the air, 7 touchdowns to 1 interception, and even a pair of rushing touchdowns. Since he was named the starter earlier this week and he is playing the best football of his career I have high hopes for Saturday. Of course, by merely speaking this I like jinxed him into a four pick game.

Despite the 1-3 record Purdue’s offense has been much, much better. We’re 31st nationally at 484 yards per game, but 79th in points at 28.3. That has been the biggest weakness so far. We’re moving the football, but not converting it into points. That was the case last week when we only scored 30 against Boston College but should have topped 40. When he was at Western Kentucky, Brohm’s teams topped 40 points 28 times in 41 games. At Purdue in 17 games he has only done it once: against Ohio last year. (although if the Jared Sparks TD vs. Missouri had stood that would have been game No. 2).

That’s really the missing ingredient here so far. Purdue needs to get better at finishing drives. If this is a game where Purdue gets into the 40s I don’t think Nebraska has the offense to keep up. We have seen a taste of what Purdue’s offense can do the last few weeks and getting off to a quick start is again critical. This needs to be a game where Purdue scores on its first couple of drives. Put the pressure on them early and I don’t think they have enough to come back.