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NCAA Football: Nebraska at Minnesota Nick Wosika-USA TODAY Sports

Over the last few seasons Purdue has had a surprisingly decent little rivalry with Nebraska. The Cornhusker fans that desire to have a return to the Nebraska of old can’t fathom a team like Purdue beating them, but that is what has happened as the teams have split the last six meetings. They have been close, competitive games as well. Last season Purdue was down 14-0 thanks to a pair of special teams gaffes before my TV had even properly warmed up. It was 17-0 less than 10 minutes in, but Purdue still managed to make it a one possession game in the fourth quarter.

It has definitely been interesting. 30 years ago it was hard to imagine Purdue would be neck and neck with mighty Nebraska (even discounting the fact of Nebraska in the Big Ten was a wild idea). They have fallen and the last couple of seasons the teams have been pretty even. Purdue is sitting on four wins with a pair of top 10 teams following. It is not quite a must win, but it is a “very good idea to win this” game.

Nebraska Cornhuskers

2020 Record: 3-5

2021 Record: 3-5, 1-4

Bowl Result: None

Blog Representation: Corn Nation

Series with Purdue: Nebraska leads 5-4

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

Last Nebraska win: 37-27 at Purdue on 12/5/2020

Odds: Nebraska by 7.5

Head Coach: Scott Frost (15-25 in 4th season at Nebraska, 34-32 overall)

Their Season So Far

If I had to pick an analogue for this season’s Nebraska team it would be 2002 Purdue. That boilermaker team lost six games all by one possession. It led the Big Ten in total offense and total defense, but could not get out of its way in some games with turnovers and special teams mistakes. They may be 3-5, but they have lost all five games by 8 points or less. Three of those five losses were by 13 total points to teams currently undefeated and in the top 10. They also have a bad loss at Illinois and a decent loss to Minnesota two weeks ago.

That all has Scott Frost on a bit of a hot seat. He was the golden child brought home to return Nebraska to past glory. In four seasons he has yet to even get them to the postseason, and this year looks unlikely with games left against Wisconsin, Ohio State, and Iowa. They are looking at this game with Purdue as an absolute must-win, especially coming off of a bye week.

In addition to last year’s game the series with us has been very interesting. Two years ago Aidan O’Connell had his first significant career action and led a fourth quarter game-winning drive to win on a TD run by David Bell. Three seasons ago Purdue got its first ever win in Lincoln by having one of the best offensive performances under Jeff Brohm. It will need to be significantly better than it has been this year to win on Saturday.

Who to Watch on Offense

Adrian Martinez – QB – This will be the fourth time we have seen Martinez, and he has had mixed results against Purdue. His record is 1-2. He has made some rather large mistakes, but he has also been mobile with four rushing TDs. With 7,600 yards passing and 2,200 yards rushing in his career he is as versatile as they come. This year he has 10 TDs passing and 10 TDs rushing. He is their leading rusher with 433 yards, and that is despite losing 122 yards on 21 sacks in eight games. This season he only has three interceptions, but he has been loose with the football before. We know what is coming. He is the Nebraska offense. Contain him, and you contain Nebraska.

Rahmir Johnson – RB – Johnson has been the leader of a large group of running backs that have run for at least 100 yards. He is at 381 yards and 4 TDs. All four touchdowns have come in the last three games, so he has come on as a much larger part of the offense.

Samori Toure – WR – Toure has had a solid season with 27 receptions for 521 yards and 3 TDs. Overall, this is a much better offense than Purdue has played in the first four Big Ten games. They are 4th in scoring at nearly 31 points per game. They are also 4th in rushing and passing, and second in total offense. They will test Purdue’s defense, which is all the more reason to get our own offense on track.

Who to Watch on Defense

Deontai Williams – S – Williams is tied for the Big Ten lead with four interceptions, a major concern given what happened with O’Connell last week. He also has 46 tackles on the year. Last season he had 12 tackles against Purdue, so he is definitely someone to keep an eye on.

Nick Henrich – LB – He leads the team with 65 tackles, which is very impressive for a freshman. He will play all over the field and probably be the leader in stopping Purdue’s moribund running game. If you’re looking for positive news, the Nebraska defense is positively average. In the last three games Purdue has faced the three best defenses in the conference. Nebraska is 8th overall, 8th in rushing, and 6th in passing. Purdue should have an easier day.

Garrett Nelson – LB – Nelson leads them with 2.5 of the team’s 13 sacks. They are 13th in the league in that category, which is only ahead of Indiana. Given that Aidan O’Connell is a much better quarterback when kept clean, this is a big factor in Purdue’s favor. Unfortunately, we have given up the most sacks with 21.

Who to Watch on Special Teams

Connor Culp – K – Culp is only 6 of 12 on field goals this season and has missed four extra points. That gives Purdue an advantage with Mitchell Fineran.

William Przystup– P – He has taken over as the main punter and averages over 45 yards per kick. He even had an 84 yard kick and roll vs. Northwestern. The return game in both aspects has been a disaster, and they have given up a punt return for a score. Let us also not forget they gave up a SAFETY on a punt return.

Game Outlook

This game is on Aidan O’Connell. He seems to do well until he gets that first interception. Once that happens, it leads to a second, which makes a third even more likely. He makes Purdue’s offense move better than Jack Plummer, but once he throws that first pick he tightens up. The solution is to not throw the first pick. For better or worse, he is the starter.

Purdue also needs to get something, anything out of the running game. We don’t need to turn into a triple option team, but getting even the modest gains like we did against Iowa is huge. The potential is there. King Doerue had 95 yards against Minnesota. There needs to be at least some balance. With Greg Long and Tyler Witt questionable for Saturday I am not encourage. An already bad line won’t get better missing its best two guys.

The offense just has to play better. 13 points is not going to cut it. Nebraska has a good offense and this can get out of hand in a hurry unless the Boilers can find a way to score points. The Cornhuskers seem to make a few huge mistakes per game, but can Purdue take advantage? It feels like we need to score in the 30s to win. At the moment, that appears like a longshot, but O’Connell has done it before.