"If you're on defense and you don't know where that guy's at, you're a little bit crazy," Nebraska defensive coordinator Erik Chinander said earlier this week.
"That guy" is Purdue's star freshman wide receiver Rondale Moore. The player of the year in Kentucky last year, and an alum of Purdue Coach Jeff Brohm's high school, Moore has been better-than-advertised after making the still shocking decision to decommit from Texas and then grab a Boilermakers hat over those from Florida State, Alabama and Ohio State at the U.S. Army All-American game.
That doesn't happen very often at Purdue. It's possible it has never happened, and that alone made it a big deal. Moore's play through four games this season has made it even bigger.
The true freshman leads the Big Ten in receptions (33) and receiving yards (372). His five total touchdowns rank second in the conference.
But Moore's impact on Purdue's offense might be even larger than those numbers suggest. He's been targeted on 30 percent of the Boilermakers' league-leading 153 pass attempts. He only has six carries, but he's averaging 22 yards per rush.
"They're going to find a way to get him the football, whether it's fly sweep or putting him in the backfield and motioning him out or screening him out of the backfield, whether he's in the slot or that No. 1 [receiver] running some difficult patterns," Chinander said. "I think we always have to have conscious awareness of where he's going to be at. I don't know if you can ever just stop him for a game, but [it's] how you can limit what he's going to do."
If that type of usage for a speedy slot receiver reads as familiar that's because it is the sort of thing we talked about all offseason for Nebraska and have yet to see as the offense has only had one good run at things this season in top form. (And to be clear, it was Michigan's dominant defense that ensured Nebraska was nowhere near top form last week more than any extenuating circumstances.)
Saturday's going to be a challenge for the Huskers' secondary. Somebody –– and I would assume it will be Dicaprio Bootle –– will draw Moore most of the day and whoever it is likely won't be doing it alone. That means the rest of Nebraska's secondary is going to have to win some one-on-ones down the field. Purdue's not lacking for options in that regard. While Moore went for 110 yards against Boston College, Isaac Zico hit for 84 yards on six catches while Terry Right had two receptions for 40 yards, including a touchdown. Get those receivers mostly covered and there's still tight end Brycen Hopkins to worry about. He's averaging 17 yards per catch this season.
The good news for those in red? On a per-play basis, Nebraska's pass defense ranks 35th nationally at 5.27 yards per pass (once you count sacks as passing plays as I'm sure football's founding fathers intended instead of the illogical way college football actually does it). The bad news? It's been boom or bust defending the pass (the run for that matter, too). If you choose to look only at yards, Nebraska's 3.67 sacks per game (8th nationally) is covering up how many big plays it's giving up through the air. There the Huskers rank 71st in the country giving up an explosive passing play (15-plus yards) on 15 percent of the total snaps.
This Purdue team is built to exploit the latter, and it's Moore's ability to stretch the field horizontally with his quickness that has made it all the more effective early in 2018.
Nebraska has to have an answer for him on Saturday.
The Grab Bag
- Why is Nebraska "terrible" right now? Two SB Nation writers offer some numbers-based reasons.
- The Journal & Courier breaks down the Purdue-Nebraska matchup and predicts a Nebraska win. Also, Purdue defensive coordinator Nick Holt talks about facing the Huskers' offense.
- "The scheme war is over" reads the headline of this interesting piece from The Ringer on the evolution of offensive footbal at the pro level.
- ICYMI: Frost was happier with the Huskers' week of practice, Nebraska volleyball takes to the road, remembering the first Pudue-Nebraska game on its 60th anniversary and a look at how the new redshirt rule will impact recruiting.
Today's Song of Today