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Purdue Football: Nebraska Offense Preview

What to expect from the Huskers of Corn on offense. Hint: They’re going to run the ball.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 06 Nebraska at Illinois Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Boilermakers return to action after a desperately needed off week. Ryan Walters and crew are off to Lincoln in what is shaping up to be a miserable day of Midwestern early winter.

It’s time to break out the felt lined overalls and ski masks and watch some football!


Key Players

#10 - Heinrich Haarberg - Quarterback

Do you guys remember Garrett Shrader?

Hopefully Purdue’s defense does because Haarberg is a more athletic version of Shrader, at least when he’s running the ball. That’s what Nebraska wants to do with Haarberg. They want to run him, run him, run him, and then fake the QB run and attack deep. They did that to perfection against Northwestern, and it resulted in a crucial 4th quarter touchdown that effectively ended the game.

If you can stop Haarberg from running the ball, you’re in business. He’s tall but has a weird 3-quarter release that can be batted down at the line. His accuracy is sporadic at best, and when he misses, he misses high. Purdue’s safeties need to hit the jugs machine because at some point, they’ll have an opportunity to pick off a floating Haarberg pass. He’s at his best on the move where he puts defenders in a bind with his running ability. I know I’ve said it before, but it would be in Purdue’s best interest to keep him in the pocket. Hopefully, they take my advice this time.

The thing is, it’s hard to stop Haarberg from running the ball. He executes the zone read well and does a good job of waiting until the last moment to pull the ball from the back. If the weatherman is right, a bunch of fancy ball handling might not be a great idea on Saturday. In that case, look for Nebraska to use their 6’5”, 215-pound quarterback on the perimeter in the direct quarterback run game. He’s not as strong as Shrader, but he’s faster and an overall better athlete. He ran the ball 21 times against Northern Illinois earlier this season; I wouldn’t be surprised if he eclipsed that on Saturday.

For Purdue’s defense, it’s all about patience. Haarberg is going to pick up some yards on the ground, but the Boilermakers can’t let him break off 20 and 30 yard gains at a time. The goal is to get Nebraska into 3rd and medium/long and force a throw. Haarberg is much better when the defense doesn’t know he’s throwing the ball.

This is a unique opportunity for the Purdue defense. They can redeem their horrific performance against Shrader and Syracuse. They can show real-time, in-season growth by shutting down Nebraska’s talented running quarterback.

#21 - Emmett Johnson - Running Back

Johnson and senior back Anthony Grant share the “or” distinction at the top of Nebraska’s running back depth chart, but Johnson appeared to take over as the lead back against Northwestern, carrying the ball 12 times for 73 yards and a touchdown. Grant received 6 carries and managed 22 yards. You’ll see both on Saturday, but I anticipate Johnson getting the majority of the carries.

It’s all about the zone read game for Nebraska, and that requires a solid running back. Johnson, a redshirt freshman, gives Matt Rhule the most pop out of the backfield. He’s a one-cut runner with solid burst. Nebraska likes to stretch the field horizontally in order to open up vertical running lanes for Johnson to exploit. Considering the state of their offensive line, I expect to see Haarberg and Johnson on the perimeter most of the game. It’ll be up to Purdue’s linebackers to push everything back inside and let the defensive line and inside linebackers flow to the ball.


Running the Ball

It’s a little concerning that Nebraska’s strength is running the ball, and the weather on Saturday may necessitate them running the ball. Haarberg runs like a small forward running the court in transition. He eats up yardage with his long strides and gets on top of safeties faster than they expect. His long strides and solid long speed often allow him to outrun angles.

Johnson is a quick, one cut back who hits the hole with authority. You’ll see Nebraska run some speed option looks, and if the edge setting defender gets too interested in the quarterback, a quick pitch to Johnson could go the distance. Throw in Anthony’s Grant’s tough between the tackles power running, and the Cornhuskers are adept at moving the ball on the ground. They are currently 20th in the nation in rushing yards, which is better than any team Purdue has played thus far.

It’s up to the Boilermakers’ defense to find a way off the field on Saturday; otherwise, Nebraska will dominate time of possession with their ground attack.


Offensive Line Injuries

The Cornhuskers will be down 3 out of their 5 starting offensive linemen on Saturday. That’s not as bad as it could be because they rotate their linemen a good bit, but there is a reason some players start and others come off the bench.

The left side of the line, in particular, could be vulnerable. Massive 6’10”, 325 Teddy Prochazka is strong in the run game, but Scourton and Jenkins could give him fits with the speed rush around the edge. Next to Prozchazka is another new starter, redshirt freshman Justin Evans-Jenkins. When you’ve got two new starters on the same line, it’s time to attack. Throw in the fact that Nebraska is also missing their starting right guard, and Purdue’s aggressive front should be able to get into the backfield and disrupt Nebraska’s run game. If you can pick up a tackle for loss on an early down, it makes defending the later downs much easier.

Purdue’s defense will win or lose this game on first and second down. If they hold up and make Nebraska throw the ball.

They win.

If they can’t contain the run on early downs and Nebraska gets their running game in rhythm, they lose.

Pretty simple.


If Purdue limits the quarterback run game, they win. It’s that simple. Nebraska’s receiving group and offensive line are decimated by injuries. Purdue plays a 5-man line that should be well suited to stop the run. A word of warning though: Nebraska will attack deep with Haarberg if the safeties get interested in the run game. Nebraska doesn’t complete many passes, but the passes they do complete tend to be wide-open shots down the field.

In a game that could be a low-scoring slugfest, limiting chunk plays to open receivers will be crucial.

Purdue’s defense will win or lose this game on first and second down. If they hold up and make Nebraska throw the ball.

They win.

If they can’t contain the run on early downs and Nebraska gets their running game in rhythm, they lose.

Pretty simple.