The 2019 season is almost here. You can feel it coming in the air tonight (HOLD ON!!!!!). Even after the disastrous bowl game to close last year there is a lot of excitement coming into this season. I think much of it comes from the 18 freshmen on the two deep. We’re excited to see the fruit of improved recruiting, but that will still take some time. Overall, I am still guarded about this season because of the overall lack of experience, but there is still some promise.
That youth will be tested with a long road trip out west. The team is leaving today in an attempt to adapt to the three hour time difference and the altitude. It is also hard to get a read on a non-conference team we haven’t seen in three years. The Wolf Pack are usually a pretty decent Group of Five team, especially at home. Purdue also has not won a regular season game in the Pacific time zone since winning at Stanford on October 3, 1970.
Even though Purdue is a 10 point favorite, this is not going to be easy. Nevada has talent and home field advantage. I would feel a lot better if this game was at home, but it is still a game that Purdue can win.
Nevada Wolf Pack
2018 Record: 8-5, 5-3 Mountain West
Bowl Result: Beat Arkansas State 16-13 in Arizona Bowl
Series with Purdue: Purdue leads 1-0
Last Purdue win: 24-14 at Purdue on 9/24/2016
Last Nevada win: None
Head Coach: Jay Norvell (11-14 in third season at Nevada)
Who to Watch on Offense
Toa Taua – RB – The 5’9” 210 pound sophomore had an excellent freshman season last year. He rushed for 872 yards and 6 TDs and he also caught 22 passes out of the backfield for 202 yards and a score. He is a shifty back that has been known to make the big play. He averaged just under five yards a carry and will probably get plenty of chances to run against an untested Purdue front line. Kelton Moore also rushed for 433 yards and four more touchdowns, while Jaxson Kincaide performed well ina reaerve role with 119 yards and two scores.
Carson Strong – QB – Strong is the first freshman to start the opener at quarterback for the Wolf Pack since 1998. He is a 6’4” 220 pounds QB from Vacaville, California, where he did not play as a senior due to injury. Aside from very limited garbage time action last year against Portland State this is his first game in two years. His junior year stats from high school were 2,732 yards and 26 touchdowns against only four interceptions, but that was two years ago against high school competition. He did beat out Malik Henry for the job, but Henry could see the field some. The former 4-star Florida State recruit is a Last Chance U. alum.
Elijah Cooks – WR – Cooks is one of three top receivers back from last season. He caught 22 passes for 348 yards and 6 TDs. Along with Kaleb Fossum (70-734-1) and Romeo Doubs (43-562-2) Strong has plenty of targets to throw the ball to. He has the skill players to have a pretty good offense.
Who to Watch on Defense
Gabe Sewell – LB – Sewell was the leading tackler last season with 92 stops to go along with three sacks and two pass breakups. He has started 36 games for Nevada over the last three years and is their most experienced player. He will start at middle linebacker, but could play a few snaps on the edge.
Hausia Sekona – DT – Sekona has 28 starts on the teams, second only to Sewell. He is listed at 6’ 280, but is good at clogging up the middle of the line and taking on blocks. He had 31 tackles a years ago, 3.5 for loss.
Dom Peterson – DE – Peterson will be the toughest test for Purdue’s offensive line. He was only a freshman last year, but he had 44 tackles, 10 for loss, and 3.5 sacks. They think he has the potential to be an all-conference defensive end.
Daniel Brown – CB – Brown broke up 11 passes a year ago and is the team’s best cover corner. He did not have an interception, but he also had 53 tackles.
Who to Watch on Special Teams
Spencer Pettit – K – Pettit had the job in 2017, but did not have it in 2018. In his career he is 15 of 20 on field goals and has hit on 61 of 63 extra points.
Quinton Conaway – P – Conaway might be the best punter in the Mountain West Conference and possibly one of the best in the country. He averaged over 43 yards per punt last season.
This is one of the few games where Purdue probably has a decent talent advantage over its opponent. As we saw last year at home against Eastern Michigan, that means very little. I think this game really comes down to how much Purdue limits its own mistakes. The freshmen have to play like they aren’t freshmen, which is definitely possible. Look at what Rondale did last year in shredding opponents. I have no delusions that every freshman is going to have a Rondale-like debut, but several of them are capable of having good performances.
The Wolf Pack is also breaking in a new offensive line, but Purdue is breaking in a mostly new defensive line. A matchup to watch will be George Karlaftis, the stud freshman, going against Jake Nelson, the left tackle, top offensive lineman, and only senior on their line. This will be a great test to see how Karlaftis can perform against older, experienced tackles. If he has a big game, watch out.
I can see this game going a bit like the Toledo game back in 2007. Purdue was favored in that one, but it was a close game before talent broke it open late. Purdue only led that game 21-14 before a Selwyn Limon TD just before halftime started breaking it open. Purdue won 52-24. I don’t expect to win by that big of a margin, but I think we get the first season opening win of the Brohm era.