Purdue is a massive 28-point underdog at Penn State on Saturday. That is a huge number. Against Ohio State last year Purdue was only a 13.5-point underdog. This line started around 16.5 and skyrocketed with the news that Elijah Sindelar and Rondale Moore would be out. Even in the first game of the Brohm era, going against Lamar Jackson with zero expectations, Purdue was “only” a 26-point underdog. With a freshman QB making his first road start in a daunting venue expectations can only be so high.
I don’t think any Purdue fan expects a win this weekend. It has been a rough season so far, made worse by terrible injury luck and a porous pass defense. The Boilers showed a lot of heart last week in making a comeback on the Gophers. Most fans have settled into the attitude of “the freshmen will be good some day, but they are still freshmen.” It is a fair assessment to take. There will be plays this Saturday when the majority of our offense will be freshmen taking the field against one of the Big Ten’s best teams.
That’s what makes this game interesting to me. Almost everyone is expecting a blowout with good reason. The longer Purdue makes this competitive the more excited we will be for the future. In the unlikely event Purdue somehow wins it would even erase much of the concern from the slow start to the year.
2018 Record: 9-4, 6-3 Big Ten East
Bowl Result: Lost to Kentucky 27-24 in Capitol One Bowl
Blog Representation: Black Shoe Diaries
Series with Purdue: Penn State leads 14-3-1
Last Purdue win: 20-13 at Penn State on 10/9/2004 (Purdue’s only win ever in Happy Valley)
Last Penn State win: 62-24 at Purdue on 10/29/2016 (Most points ever for a visiting team at Ross-Ade Stadium)
Head Coach: James Franklin (49-21 in 6th season at Penn State, 73-36 in 9th season overall)
2019 so far for Penn State
The Nittany Lions have been mostly dominant so far. They are coming off of a 59-0 road win at Maryland that wasn’t even that close. They also have huge wins over Idaho and Buffalo, but were tested in a somewhat ugly 17-10 win over Pittsburgh at home. Pittsburgh then struggled to beat FCS Delaware, proving that college football is and always will be a dumb sport.
What concerns me greatly is that Penn State has the second best passing offense in the Big Ten at 316 yards per game. The only one better than theirs? Purdue’s at 351 yards per game (heavily weighted by the departed Sindelar). They will go against the worst pass defense in the Big Ten, as Purdue is giving up 296.5 yard per game, almost 23 yards worse than the No. 13 defense in Maryland (which was just shredded by Penn State).
The Nittany Lions clearly have their eyes on a larger prize this season. They have these annual big three games with Michigan, Michigan State, and Ohio State coming up for East supremacy as well as a night game in Iowa City. They are a Big Ten contender and Purdue is merely hoping to walk a narrow path of wins over Maryland, Illinois, Nebraska, Northwestern, and Indiana to a third straight bowl game.
Who to Watch on Offense
Sean Clifford – QB – Meet the big Ten’s best passer now that Sindelar is hurt. Clifford has thrown for 1,179 yards and 9 TDs against just one interception so far. He also is second on the team in rushing with 167 yards and a TD. He threw his only pick of the season against Maryland last week, but still had nearly 400 yards passing. He is a brutally efficient passer who completed nearly 84% of his passes last week. Given that Tanner Morgan was even better last week against Purdue this is a major concern. Purdue’s secondary must be night and day better than last week or this game will be over quickly.
KJ Hamler – WR – Hamler is a big play threat with 16 receptions for 353 yards and 3 touchdowns. He is very similar to Rashod Bateman, who toyed with the Purdue secondary last week. Since the Penn State offensive line has given up just 6 sacks we have to hope this is the breakout George Karlaftis game.
Journey Brown – RB – Penn State’s offense is very balanced with 774 rushing yards, and they have come from a variety of backs. Brown leads the team with 196 yards and 3 scores, but Devyn Ford and Noah Cain have both gone over 100 yards rushing for the season so far, as has Clifford at quarterback. That means, for fun, this is an offense that will keep Purdue guessing.
Who to Watch on Defense
It is going to be extremely difficult to keep Penn State under 40 in this game, so perhaps our only chance is a wild shootout where they freshmen on offense just all break out at the same time. That seems unlikely with a pretty strong defense. We’re not going to get a lot of help from our defense when we’re the worst team in the conference in turnover margin at -8. They also have a great run defense at 68 yards per game and a solid pass defense that has 15 sacks.
Yetur Gross-Matos – DE – Gross-Matos leads the team with 3.5 sacks on the season and 5.5 tackles for loss. Purdue has mostly avoided sacks with quick passes, but Gross-Matos can have a career day against an offensive line that is still gaining experience.
Micah Parsons – LB – I know it is shocking, but Penn State has a very good up and coming linebacker. Parsons is only a sophomore, but he leads the team with 22 tackles and has 4 for loss. He plays all over the field and can defend the run or the pass well.
John Reid – CB – Reid has a pair of interceptions on the season and is a very good 5th year cornerback. He also has 10 tackles and a sack, so the Nittany Lions are not afraid to use him on the corner blitz.
Who to Watch on Special Teams
KJ Hamler – PR/KR – As if defending Hamler wasn’t bad enough on offense. He is a dynamic returner that is a threat to break a special teams return at any time.
Jake Pinegar – K – They have not had to call on him much yet, but Pinegar is a perfect 4 for 4 on the season in field goal attempts.
Everything about this game screams mismatch for Purdue. You have a versatile offense that is good at spreading the ball around against a woeful pass defense. You have a defensive line good at getting pressure against a bad offensive line and a freshman quarterback. You have an experienced, talented team going against a team that is missing most of its best players on both sides of the ball.
This could get very ugly.
Let’s be honest here: Purdue is going to have to play a near perfect game against a Penn State team that comes out flat and has a lot of mistakes in order to get a win here. Even then, it may not be enough. I doubt they will be looking ahead to next week against Iowa. Pittsburgh was able to keep it close because they threw for 372 yards, but could not convert that yardage into points. They mostly held Penn State in check and failed to convert on their scoring opportunities. They also have a much better defense than Purdue.
As I said above, unless the secondary is night and day different than it was last week Purdue has pretty much no chance. I am watching this game mostly to see how the freshmen respond. Can they at least keep it close for a half? Anything beyond that feels like a win.