Nebraska heads on the road tomorrow for the first time this season. Consider it a soft open for the Huskers’ handful of first-year players because, as we’ll see below, Purdue looks as bad on the stat sheet as it has on the field so far this season.
In the Boilermakers’ favor, however, they are coming off a bye and should have some early momentum to play off of with true freshman Danny Etling getting his first career start.
From 2008 through 2012, Purdue is a total of 1.5 wins below their expected total, which, considering this is a five-year span, isn’t much. The Boilermakers have been average, but at least it was an averageness they more or less earned.
Somewhat surprisingly, coach Danny Hope was fired last year despite guiding Purdue to bowl eligibility. Over his four years, Hope was actually slightly above his expected win total but, at least according to him, way below how many tickets his teams inspired Purdue fans to buy and that was a problem for Boilermakers’ AD Morgan Burke. It looks like a strange reason to fire a coach considering that tickets for this Nebraska game can be had for about the price of a Redbox rental.
New coach Darrell Hazell got to start with a team that slightly overachieved in each of the previous three seasons, which is a double-edged sword. It can mean that you’ve got some (mentally) tough hombres still hanging around who know how to win tough games. It also usually means, statistically speaking, that the team is poised to come back to average and that’s certainly seemed to be the case for the Boilermakers early this season.
Five games in, it’s sort of surprising to see that Nebraska, on a per play basis, is only actually above average in two categories — rushing offense and total offense. But it’s nowhere near as surprising as the same look at Purdue. The Boilermakers are currently at least 14 percent worse than the national average for FBS teams against FBS opponents in every single category.
What’s that look like from a yards perspective? The Boilermakers are at least a yard worse than the national average (either above in the case of defense or below for offense) in every category except total offense and defense where they are 0.84 and 0.96 yards respectively off the national average. That means that, so far this season, Purdue is falling nearly two yards behind its opponent for every play in each game. It’s hard to win that way.
With that in mind, it’s not a surprise that Nebraska has a sizable advantage in every category above. The biggest is still the run game, which the Huskers can rely on as much as they please on Saturday. And you can probably expect Nebraska’s run defense, surprisingly hovering around average right now, to eke over to the right side of the ledger by next week.
But there is still this matter of Purdue’s surprisingly narrow loss to Notre Dame earlier this year. It’s the big anomaly in the Boilermakers’ portfolio. How did they put the Irish in a position where they needed three fourth quarter touchdowns to score a seven-point win as a 21-point favorite? Well, Purdue stopped the run. Notre Dame averaged just 2.5 yards per carry on the ground, but facing Nebraska is a much different task. Notre Dame currently ranks 91st nationally in rushing offense. Nebraska ranks ninth.
HOW YOU’LL KNOW NEBRASKA’S IN GOOD SHAPE
If the Huskers are making Purdue earn its yards and points, there’s probably no way the Boilermakers can keep up with Nebraska’s offense. The coaches have been very smart in keeping freshman quarterback Tommy Armstrong in manageable situations and I’m guessing they’ll be extra protective on the road. With that in mind, the quickest way for the Huskers to get in trouble here is through special teams gaffes or turnovers. The former have been a particular problem this season while the latter is a long time bugaboo of the Huskers but has been less present in 2013. If Nebraska can avoid either and keep this game straight-up, their on-paper advantage should be apparent on the Ross-Ade grass.
WHEN TO WORRY
Nebraska showed a couple of zero blitzes against Illinois and they worked to great effect. With a true freshman quarterback making his first start, expect to see some more of them and, more specifically, expect them to get home. Purdue currently ranks 10th in the Big Ten with 11 sacks allowed this year. If Etling is able to either avoid the rush or simply deal with it by getting the ball out quickly, that will slow the Huskers down and potentially allow the Boilermakers to take some shots downfield, which, really, is their best hope in this game. Nebraska will look to make things rough for Etling right from the start. If they’re not, Purdue’s chances of an upset go up.
Purdue has rushed for 200 yards or more in conference play just seven times in their last 33 games dating back to 2009. The Boilermakers have yet to rush for more than 153 yards in any game this season.
Purdue’s Big Bass Drum — 8-feet in diameter, 4-feet wide and billed as the world’s largest — was built in 1921. The drum that you’ll see Saturday is the same instrument. It has never needed to be replaced.
This is old gold and black done right. Sharp helmet, simple black jersey at home with one-color numbers on the chest, back and shoulders in an attractively skinny typeface that’s redolent of the Chicago Bears. There’s nothing extraneous here except for the unattractive neck shininess that plagues a lot of Nike jerseys. The Boilermakers have black, gold and white pants at their disposal and have worn all three with the home jerseys this year, but black over gold is still the best option available and makes for a pretty sharp kit overall.