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Nebraska at Purdue Preview

The second half of the season begins Saturday night. 

Purdue v Nebraska Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images

If the first half of Purdue’s season is any indication, the second half is going to be wild. Purdue could easily be 6-0 and ranked in the top 15 right now, if not top 10. It could also easily be 1-5 and searching for its first FBS win. The narrow losses to Penn State and Syracuse sting, but at least they are a combined 10-0. If Purdue doesn’t stop late two point conversions by Florida Atlantic and Maryland it is off to the crapshoot of overtime. At least those two improved Jeff Brohm’s close games ledger, as Purdue did what it needed to do in the end to close it out. Minnesota was technically a double digit win, but it was a 10-10 game with five minutes left.

Now we get to the alleged “Easier” part of the season. On day 1 this part contained the only preseason top 25 team in Wisconsin, and it still contains the only team that could be ranked at the time of the game… in Illinois. Before that, Purdue has to face two interim coaches and the worst offense in America. After that, we get a hapless Northwestern team and Indiana, who is quickly fading. Given that it feels like if we can’t finally beat Wisconsin this year it won’t happen for a long time, it is hard to not look forward to the next seven weeks. A 10-win season and trip to Indy for the Big Ten championship game really is possible.

First, we have to deal with the Cornhuskers.

Nebraska Cornhuskers

2021 Record: 3-9, 1-8 Big Ten

2022 Record: 3-3, 2-1 Big Ten

Bowl Result: None

Blog Representation: Corn Nation

Series with Purdue: Series tied 5-5

Last Purdue win: 28-23 at Nebraska on 10/30/2021

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

Head Coach: Mickey Joseph (2-1 as interim coach)

The Cornhuskers’ Season Thus Far:

You could certainly call Nebraska’s season so far “eventful”. They started a week early with a come from ahead loss to Northwestern in Ireland. Since then, Northwestern has done nothing and the loss looks abysmal. They came back and need to work a little too hard to beat FCS North Dakota before lost at home to Georgia Southern. That was enough to permanently cancel Scott Frost Day, and really, how bad do you have to be at your job for your employer to pay you several million dollars more just so they can fire you a few weeks earlier?

They were then blasted by an Oklahoma team that hasn’t looked good in any way, shape, or form, but at least they recovered under Mickey Joseph to maintain some semblance of dignity by not losing back-to-back games to Indiana and Rutgers.

Nebraska is now a hard team to figure. With two recent wins and the bag of crap that is the Big Ten West they could manage three more victories to reach a bowl game. Would you really count them out against Wisconsin, Iowa, or an offensively challenged Illinois team? They have some talent and if winning cures ills, they at least have some confidence from the past two weeks.

Who to Watch on Offense

Casey Thompson – QB – The transfer from Texas was brought in to replace the wildly inconsistent Adrian Martinez… and he has been inconsistent. The overall numbers are okay. He has completed 118 of 180 passes for 1,497 yards and nine touchdowns against six interceptions, but he has been sacked 15 times. He is not the running threat that Martinez was, but at the goal line he has five touchdowns despite being at negative yardage for the season.

Anthony Grant – RB – Grant has been good and has given the Huskers a solid running option out side of the quarterback for the first time in ages. He has 647 yards and five TDs on the ground. That’s not bad considering he is a junior in his first collegiate action since 2018 at Florida State.

Trey Palmer – WR – Palmer is kind of like Charlie Jones in that he is far and away the number one receiver on the team. He has 40 receptions for 544 yards and three touchdowns. That puts him second to Jones in the conference in terms of total receptions, and third in yardage.

Overall, the offense isn’t bad. They are scoring close to 30 points per game and they are in the middle of the pack in most offensive categories. They have recently had improved offensive line play, so that helps a ton. They struggled to finish drives against Rutgers last week, but they still did enough to get the win, even if that “enough” was waiting around for Rutgers to screw up.

Who to Watch on Defense

Luke Reimer – LB – The linebacker is the leader on the team in overall tackles with 49 and he also leads with 5 passes defensed and has one interception. He is one of the more experienced players on the Nebraska defense and has more assisted tackles than solos, so he is always around the ball.

Garrett Nelson – DE – Purdue did not do a good job of protecting Aidan O’Connell last week and Nelson has 4.5 sacks on the season. That has him near the top of the league in the Big Ten. He is playing some of the best football of his career this year and it is a tremendous help.

Marque Buford Jr. – DB – The sophomore has emerged as a solid DB, with 34 tackles and a team high two interceptions. Both picks came in the 45-42 loss to Georgia Southern, but this past week against Rutgers he had six tackles.

The biggest thing plaguing Nebraska defensively is the run defense. They are last in the conference at 186 yards per game, and they haven’t even faced run heavy teams in Wisconsin, Illinois, and Minnesota yet. Purdue’s ground game has been better, so hopefully there will be some gaps to run through even with King Doerue and Dylan Downing out. Of course, Purdue had an easier time running against a much better Minnesota run defense than a much worse Maryland run defense, so go figure. Nebraska is also 11th in the conference in pass defense, so AOC can have a big day.

Who to Watch on Special Teams

Trey Palmer – KR, PR – Again, like Jones, Palmer gets the ball in his hands on returns and is pretty good. He averages nine yards per punt return and over 20 on kick returns.

Brian Buschini – P – Buschini has been good, averaging over 45 yards per kick. That’s a good thing, because the offense is mostly touchdowns or bust. They have attempted only four field goals all year and made just one. Timmy Bleekrode is 24 of 24 on extra points, however.

Game Outlook

Has Nebraska finally turned a corner, or did they just figure out how to beat bad teams? Rutgers and Indiana are not good, but Nebraska has struggled with the “not good” a lot in recent years. They are at least playing better than they did under Frost, and the defense has been better the last two games. At minimum, this team did not quit on the season when the Frost firing went down. That’s commendable.

Purdue is coming in with momentum too. We’re banged up in a few places, but so far Purdue’s depth has held. The offensive line needs to have a better week this week, especially if AOC is still nursing an injury.

To be honest, this is the type of game Purdue needs to win if it is finally going to take the next step under Jeff Brohm. We’re playing at home against a team that has underachieved for years, and in that time we have won three of the last four against them. If we really are contenders to win the division, we win this game.