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Nebraska at Purdue Preview

Can Purdue celebrate Scott Frost Day in West Lafayette?

Nebraska v Purdue Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Consider me out on 2020 Purdue Football. The 2-0 start was very promising and had us flirting with the top 25, a breakthrough that needs to happen for the program soon since it has been 13 years since we have had any ranking and 15 years since we have been ranked more than once in a season. I can understand the Northwestern loss even though it was frustrating, but the highway robbery in Minneapolis combined with getting pushed around at home by Rutgers of all teams was a breaking point.

Something is off with this team. It is not getting blown out. In each of the last three weeks it has had a chance to either tie or take the lead in the fourth quarter. In fact, against Northwestern and Minnesota it had MUTLIPLE chances to do so. As Drew hinted at in yesterday’s post though, the playcalling has been an issue. Even the maligned defense delivered late against both Northwestern and Minnesota, plus it did have the stand against Illinois and the turnover against Iowa. It is like the roles reverse in the fourth quarter. The defense struggles for three quarters while the offense rules, then it switches in the fourth quarter as the offense stalls (except for Iowa) and the defense (except against Rutgers) stiffens.

You even see it in the season-long stats. Purdue has given up the fewest points (29) in the fourth quarter compared to the other three quarters. It has also scored the fewest (24, not counting Payne Durham’s TD vs. Minnesota) in the fourth quarter compared to the other three.

Something needs to be done. Purdue is a two-point home favorite against a one win team and playing at home. Find a way to get it together and salvage at least something for the last two games (if they are played).

Nebraska Cornhuskers

2019 Record: 5-7, 3-6 Big Ten West

2020 Record: 1-4

Bowl Result: None

Blog Representation: Corn Nation

Series with Purdue: Series tied 4-4.

Last Purdue win: 31-27 at Purdue on 11/2/2019

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

Head Coach: Scott Frost (10-19 in third year at Nebraska, 29-26 overall)

2020 So far for Nebraska

The fanbase for Nebraska begged for football all summer and took credit for bringing Big Ten football back and their reward has been a bad defense and a 1-4 record. They are giving up 33 points per game, which is still better than Rutgers at nearly 36 per game. They also have one of the worst scoring offenses in the Big Ten, getting only 20.6 points per game. Part of that is skewed by getting blown out by Ohio State, but they have just looked bad in losses to Northwestern (21-13) and Illinois (41-23). Only Michigan State has had a worse scoring offense.

Basically, they are Rutgers, only slightly better on defense. On offense they are Illinois, only slightly worse. This is absolutely a game Purdue can win, but considering confidence is at a season low I have my doubts.

Who to Watch on Offense

Wan’Dale Robinson – WR – Robinson has been the top target in a quarterback platoon and, like Rondale Moore, there is the argument that he needs the ball more. He has 30 receptions for 227 yards, but no touchdowns. He also has 162 yards rushing as three players (two quarterbacks and a wide receiver) have more yards rushing than their best running back.

Luke McCaffrey and Adrian Martinez – QB – The Cornhuskers have had a QB rotation and they will be doing exactly what Rutgers murdered us on: The read option. McCaffrey leads the team with 360 yards rushing and 3 touchdowns while Martinez is second with 223 yards and 2 TDs on the ground. McCaffrey has 455 yards passing and a TD with five picks. Martinez has 447 yards passing with a TD and 1 pick. As a team Nebraska has only two touchdowns through the air. If there are any readers in West Lafayette please get a bullhorn, go outside of Bob Diaco’s house, and follow him around shouting “THE QUARTERBACK WILL RUN THE BALL” over and over again. Take shifts if there is more than one of you. Find parking across from the football facility so he knows it while at work, too. Johnny Langan ran the entire second half away against Purdue against Rutgers and Diaco did nothing to stop him. Since Dedrick Mills with 95 yards and two TDs is their top running back the ball will be in the hands of Martinez or McCaffrey on every play. They have a combined 101 rushing attempts and 141 pass attempts.

Martinez has been especially good against Purdue. He was 22 of 39 for 247 yards and a pick last year, but ran for 58 yards and two TDs. In 2018 he was 25 of 42 for 323 yards and two TDs against a pick with 91 yards rushing. From what we have seen of Diaco, both QBs will have plenty of room for 6-7 yards a carry, then have all day to throw on the occasional third down we force.

Who to Watch on Defense

Nebraska at least seems to have a “pass rush” that “pressures the quarterback”. I am unfamiliar with these terms, as I am not sure Bob Diaco knows what they are. Purdue is dead last in the conference with four sacks, and with George Karlaftis out, only one player, DaMarcus Mitchell, with a sack will be on the field for Purdue. Nebraska has just eight sacks, but they have had some moments of semi-competence. They have the 6th rated pass defense in the conference at 219 yards per game, but are 12th against the run at 204 yards per game. Zander Horvath should have plenty of room… if we commit to him.

Will Honas – LB – Honas leads the team in both tackles (38) and sacks (3), so he is pretty good at getting into the backfield. The Cornhuskers do have a decent linebacking corps as four of their top five tacklers are linebackers.

JoJo Domann – LB – While Honas gets into the backfield, Domann is disruptive downfield. He also has 38 tackles, but has three pass breakups and two forced fumbles to go with them.

Myles Farmer – S – Farmer leads the team with a part of interceptions and has also forced a fumble. Marquel Dismuke also is solid in the middle of the secondary with 32 tackles and a pair of pass breakups.

Who to Watch on Special Teams

Connor Culp – K – Culp has been great at the kicking position, going 9 of 10 on field goals and 10 of 10 on extra points. He only has a long of 39 yards, however.

Alante Brown – KR – A large reason Purdue lost last week was a huge special teams screwup with the kickoff return for a score. Brown is not lighting the world on fire with his return, but he does average 20 yards per return. Cam Taylor-Britt has also done well on punt returns and has a 25 yarder.

Game Outlook

Nebraska isn’t good, but Purdue’s second half last week doesn’t inspire confidence in the Boilers at all. We couldn’t stop a quarterback from running at will even when we knew he was running. Martinez and McCaffrey are better than Langan. Who cares if you don’t give up big plays if the defense is giving up 15 play clock killing drives because it cannot stop the run? Nebraska is 13th in passing and 5th in rushing in the Big Ten. We know what they are going to do. Even when they do throw, it mostly goes to one guy. This should be the easiest thing to plan for, but Diaco will screw it up and give up at least 35 points.

Can the offense get to 40 or so then? If it is possible to struggle on offense while reaching 30 points in each of the last two games Purdue has done it. Nebraska is not great on defense, but Purdue’s playcalling, especially in the second half, has to be better.

Finally, this feels like it needs to be a win to prevent the Brohm era from going fully sideways. Losing both games in this home stretch when Purdue is favored would be a severe blow. We (allegedly) have three games left. They are against a struggling Nebraska, an Indiana team without its dynamic playmaking quarterback, and against an East team not named Indiana or Ohio State. We need to get two of them. Getting to 4-4 salvages something out of this odd year, especially when my expectations pre-COVID were 6-6 or 7-5. Anything less feels like a step back when 2021 is supposed to be the big push forward.