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Nebraska at Purdue Preview

A banged up Nebraska team heads to Purdue this week.

NCAA Football: Northwestern at Nebraska Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

Yes, Purdue can technically still make a bowl game, but that is merely a hypothetical at this point. When you lose to Nevada and Illinois, the two teams that, before the season, I would have given us the best chances of beating, the season feels wrecked.

Purdue is playing for the future now. It is about playing freshmen, developing experience, and getting better for 2020. If Purdue happens to wins the next four games in doing so, even better. We have at least a chance against them, too. Nebraska is a team that is a lot like Purdue. It has been disappointing overall. It has had a ton of injuries, including at quarterback. It is trying to get some guys back, but inconsistency on both sides of the ball have doomed them.

If Purdue can beat Nebraska, then beat a Northwestern team allergic to offense, you never know what can happen in the last two games.

Nebraska Cornhuskers

2018 Record: (4-8, 3-6 Big Ten West)

Bowl Result: None

Blog Representation: Corn Nation

Series with Purdue: Nebraska leads 4-3

Last Purdue win: 42-28 at Nebraska on 9/29/2018

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

Head Coach: Scott Frost (8-12 in 2nd season at Nebraska, 27-19 in 4th season overall)

2019 so far for Nebraska

Nebraska really is bizarre Purdue this year, only with narrow wins over Illinois and Northwestern to get to 4-4. After starting the season with a 35-21 win over South Alabama things turned south quickly with a 34-31 overtime loss at Colorado. In that game, they blew a 17-0 halftime lead and lost on a late TD and an overtime field goal. This is the equivalent of our loss to Nevada because Nebraska never trailed until the final snap, and it took a fourth quarter defensive collapse (24 point given up) to lose.

They had an easy win over Northern Illinois, then rolled up almost 700 yards of offense in a strange 42-38 win at Illinois. That was the last time the Nebraska offense looked good. Ohio State crushed them 48-7, then they squeezed out an ugly 13-10 win over Northwestern. In the last two games, with a backup QB, they lost to Minnesota 34-7 and Indiana 38-31. A turnover on downs in Indiana territory with a chance to tie was their downfall last week.

At 4-4, Nebraska needs the Purdue game for a bowl game. They have two easier games left in Purdue and Maryland, as well as two very difficult games in Wisconsin and Iowa. They don’t have a ton of confidence right now, plus they have battled injuries like us, but they are a talented, if underachieving team.

Who to Watch on Offense

Adrian Martinez – QB – The biggest reason the Nebraska offense has struggled the last few weeks because Martinez went down with a knee injury against Northwestern. He is an excellent dual-threat quarterback that has thrown for 1,245 yards and rushed for 341. He has seven touchdowns passing and three rushing against five interceptions. The Nebraska offensive line has struggled to protect him, however, as he has been sacked 15 times in six games. That includes six times against Colorado. Martinez is expected to return this week, but if he does not, Purdue will see Noah Vedral. As usual, Purdue needs to win the turnover battle and Martinez has struggled with turnovers.

JD Spielman – WR – Spielman had a huge game against Purdue last season with 10 catches for 135 yards and two touchdowns. This season he has 29 receptions for 566 yards and a touchdown. He is a big play threat with five receptions for more than 40 yards, but so far teams have mostly kept him out of the end zone.

Wan’Dale Robinson – WR – Purdue should know Robinson very well, as Jeff Brohm recruited him pretty heavily. The freshman has been excellent with a team high 33 receptions for 407 yards and two touchdowns. He is basically their Rondale Moore in that he is a versatile slot receiver that they try to get the ball to as many different ways as possible.

Dedrick Mills – RB – Mills leads the team in rushing with 380 yards and seven touchdowns. He is a large part of a diverse rushing attack that has more than 1,500 yards on the ground and is fourth in the Big Ten at 193.6 yards per game.

Who to Watch on Defense

Once again, if Purdue can’t run the ball with any success this week it will struggle. That said, Purdue couldn’t run last week against a worse run defense. Of course, Jeff Brohm called 33 passes in a monsoon and didn’t really try to run, but the inability to run the ball last week was a difference maker. Nebraska is 12th in the Big Ten against the run, ahead of only Illinois and Rutgers. The pass defense is 10th at 233 yards a game, so this is hardly the vintage Blackhshirts defense. There will be yards to gain here, especially since it won’t be pouring rain.

Mohamed Barry – LB – Barry leads the Cornhuskers in tackles at 66 with a sack. The senior linebacker is a team captain. He is also sixth in the conference overall in tackles. He was last season’s defensive MVP and has made 20 consecutive starts.

Khalil Davis – DL – Davis is the team leader in sacks with four and has 23 tackles overall. He is also a senior that was an honorable mention all-Big Ten selection a year ago with eight tackles for loss.

Lamar Jackson – CB – Jackson is Nebraska’s top corner with 24 tackles, two interceptions, and a team high 12 passes defensed. He leads the Big Ten in that category. Cam Taylor-Britt is also very good at the other corner position with 38 tackles and two interceptions.

Who to Watch on Special Teams

JP Spielman – PR – Spielman is dangerous on punt returns, as he already has a 76 yard return for a touchdown. He is averaging 8.91 yards per return, but that one big return skewes things.

Isaac Armstrong – P – Armstrong has been a solid punter. He averages more than 41 yards per kick and he has down 15 of his 41 punts inside the 20.

As a special note, the Nebraska kicking game is a bit of a mess. The Cornhuskers have been forced to use four kickers and are just 5 of 12 on field goal attempts. Walk-on safety Lane McCallum has handled most of the duties and he is 10 of 11 on extra points and 2 of 4 on field goal attempts, including the game-winner against Northwestern. Their longest field goal is from 36 yards this year. Barret Pickering handled duties last week and he was 1 of 2 on field goals in his first game of the season.

Game Outlook

I honestly don’t know what to think right now. After Purdue lost at Iowa I was confident we were headed in the right direction and would win the next three games. Then we lost to Illinois. Yes, the weather was a major factor, but it was still a home loss to Illinois. If you play the game a day later, when the weather was perfect, does Purdue win? There is certainly a good chance.

Right now Purdue needs something good to happen. Last week was a terrible offensive game, much like the TCU game, but we have also seen Purdue perform well, like against Maryland. That’s the type of game we need. I recognize that a bowl game is unlikely at this point, but it is, technically, still possible. Think of it as like being down 3-0 in a playoff series. You just need to go out and get that first game.

If Purdue gets the Nebraska game, then it gets a Northwestern team that his averse to offense. That gets the Boilers halfway to where they need to be with a bye week before going to Wisconsin. Yes, Wisconsin is a very tough matchup, but after the bye week maybe we get a healthy Elijah Sindelar and Rondale Moore to face off against the Badgers. That is like getting your ace pitcher for game 6 after you’ve gotten games 4 and 5. Perhaps they pull the upset and a 5-6 Purdue gets to host Indiana for a bowl game again.

That’s a long way away right now, however. Right now, Purdue just needs to get Nebraska. Then we can see what happens.