Nebraska is only weeks away from opening fall camp for the new year, and as the clock ticks closer to the 2021 season, we’re giving brief looks at each opponent on the schedule for the Huskers. Already covered: Illinois, Buffalo, Oklahoma, Michigan State, Northwestern, Michigan, and Minnesota. Purdue is up next.
The Boring Info
Time: No kick time yet for this Oct. 30 meeting. And given the other options that weekend, this matchup probably won’t move the needle much for any TV partners. Feels like a prime candidate for an 11 a.m. CT kick.
Line: FPI gives the Huskers a 62.5% chance to win the game. SP+ would set the line at Nebraska minus-5.1. Vegas has not yet set a spread.
Record: Purdue went 2-4 in the covid-shortened 2020 season. The year was exceptionally wacky for the Boilermakers in particular as it featured a season-opening 24-20 win over Iowa and a 31-24 road win over Illinois to open 2-0 before three cancellations and four straight losses to Northwestern, Minnesota, Rutgers, and Nebraska ended the year.
Series history: After back-to-back losses in each of Scott Frost’s first two seasons in Lincoln, the Huskers got back in the win column against Purdue in 2020 to bump out in front all-time in the series. Nebraska now leads it 5-4.
What This One Means
Perhaps Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm gave away too much too early. He brought an innovative attack to West Lafayette, earned bowl berths in each of his first two seasons, recruited dynamic and electric offensive threats to Purdue, and famously whipped Ohio State in a magical nighttime showcase game.
The Boilermakers are 8-16 since that win.
The sound you just heard was that of a train crashing back down to earth.
Brohm has now fired his defensive coordinator in back to back seasons after Bob Diaco flamed out down the stretch in 2020—because who could have possibly seen that coming? Special teams and defense, those continue to be the issue.
We’ve been asking “what’s next?” of Brohm’s bunch for a while now that it’s probably getting uncomfortable.
So why not once more just for the heck of it: what’s next?
Purdue’s offense projects well heading into the 2021 season. Aidan O’Connell and Jack Plummer both return after splitting time at quarterback in 2020. They combined to throw for 1,854 yards and 15 touchdowns against just four interceptions in 2020, with a healthy 67% completion rate and a 7.1 yards-per-attempt average.
Even without Rondale Moore, who opted out and then jumped to the NFL, Purdue did Purdue stuff. It worked the underneath to move down the field at a fairly effective rate—they ranked 50th in success rate. They were, in a lot of respects, average. They just struggled to create explosives. Purdue ranked 96th in explosive pass play rate (20-plus yards) and 98th in explosive run rate (10-plus).
Defensively, Purdue limited the big plays but it couldn’t find its own to flip games. It ranked 108th in havoc rate produced and never got to the quarterback. Co-defensive coordinators Brad Lambert and Mark Hagen will try and change that.
Some good and some bad. That’s how you end up with a team that sees every single one of its games decided by 10 points or less. Brohm is in this sort of middle ground. He isn’t without talent, though.
Zander Horvath and King Doerue make for an interesting running back pairing. The former had 231 yards combined in the first two games and then just 211 in the final four (at 4.6 a carry). The latter has flashed promise but spent most of 2020 battling injuries.
David Bell and Milton Wright make for a standout one-two punch at wideout. Bell followed up a Freshman of the Year season with 625 yards and eight scores in six games last season.
On defense, Purdue might have one of the best defensive linemen in the country in George Karlaftis, but it has questions elsewhere.
For Nebraska, this is the kind of team you try and beat up on. The Huskers were up 34-13 early in the third quarter of last year’s meeting and instead of putting it to bed, felt awfully uncomfortable in the fourth. If Purdue is middling again in 2021, Nebraska will look to take that next step.
The Guy to Know
It’s Karlaftis. A First Team AP Freshman All-American two years ago, Karlaftis notched 17 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks as a true freshman. He led Purdue with two sacks in three games last year before an injury and bout with covid ended his season. He’s strong, athletic, and good with his hands.
The Number(s) to Know
Last season it was 3.3 yards. In 2019, it was 2.9. On a yards-per-carry basis, Purdue has had one of the worst rushing attacks in the country. Now, in 2020 the Boilermakers ran the ball on only 36.5% percent of their plays, so its something of a chicken vs. egg situation, but there’s no denying that Purdue needs more from the ground game. The guys at quarterback—yes, multiple, as Purdue hasn’t gotten through a season with just one starter there since 2016—need help from the ground game.
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.