The Purdue Boilermakers host the Nebraska Cornhuskers at noon Saturday. The Boilers come out of the bye week looking to be competitive for once this season while the Cornhuskers are fresh off two big wins.
A new era has already begun for the Boilermakers. Danny Etling will take over at quarterback, replacing the ineffective Rob Henry. Rather than play backup and finish out his career on the bench, the senior Henry opted to be used wherever coach Darrell Hazell saw fit. To that end, Henry was moved to safety, which likely qualifies as the weirdest position change in history.
Purdue is very thin at the position and Henry is surprisingly athletic, enough so that he won’t be a detriment if he sees the field. Etling showed flashes of being a very good passer in his few snaps two weeks ago and was a highly touted recruit.
These are two teams going in opposite directions. At 1-4, Purdue is trying to find a win any way it can. Nebraska, 4-1, has aspirations of playing for a Big Ten Title. Purdue’s season isn’t likely to get prettier in the coming weeks, and Saturday’s match could be very one sided.
Here’s what we’ll watch for:
- The Run. Nebraska has some similarities to Wisconsin, in that both love to run the ball. Both are top 10 teams in the country when it comes to rushing. Against the Badgers, Purdue gave up nearly 400 yards rushing. Guess what Nebraska is going to do on Saturday? Run the ball. Nebraska chooses to run the ball nearly twice as much as it passes. Purdue has to find a way to stop Ameer Abdullah, who’s averaging 7.3 yards per carry, or it will be a very long day in West Lafayette.
- The Pass. Even if Purdue manages to slow the Cornhuskers run game, they still quality passers. Taylor Martinez might not play, but redshirt freshman Tommy Armstrong Jr. played well the past two weeks. Against Illinois, he completed 8-of-13 passes for 135 yards and two touchdowns. He is more of a pocket passer, but has the ability to scramble for solid yardage when necessary (4.4 yards per carry average).
- The Freshman. Etling takes over the Purdue offense this weekend. In his only snaps this season, he threw for 241 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions against Northern Illinois two weeks ago. He’s had an extra week to get snaps with the first team offense. He has a strong arm and does a solid job reading the defense. Nebraska is a good opponent for his first start as they give up 262 yards passing per game (and 182 yards on the ground). While Purdue’s offense has been a dumpster fire most of the season, they should be able to move the ball against Nebraska. When they get into the red zone, Purdue has to score. Nebraska doesn’t have a very good red zone defense (allowing teams to score 87.5-percent of the time) but the Boilermakers struggle to get into the end zone from close range. Finishing drives will be key for the Boilers.
- The Third Downs. Purdue is in the bottom of the Big Ten on third down. The Boilers are converting just 30-percent of their third downs. And while Nebraska might not have the best defense, the Cornhuskers are great on third down holding opponents to just a 30-percent conversion rate. What happens when both teams are converting and preventing at a 30-percent rate? Whatever it means, its likely not good for Purdue with a freshman QB. The Boilers have to find success on first and second down to give Etling a shot on third downs.
- The Mascots. What the hell is a Cornhusker? And why would you choose that as your nickname? Someone who husks corn? Seriously? Boilermakers are not all that much better, but at least its an imposing man with a giant hammer. Better than someone picking corn.
Purdue doesn’t really have any games left on the schedule that are winnable, and tomorrow doesn’t appear to be an exception.
This has all the markings of a fairly one sided affair.
Nebraska runs away with this one, 35-10.
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