Being a Nebraska fan these days is like living the quote from the movie Rocky Balboa - “It ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward.”
It’s no state secret that some fans tired of the gut punches are dropping off the roadside, while others have just gone numb and while they’re still absorbing the blows, they’ve stopped their own forward progress and just shrug and go to dinner after another disappointment.
While I’m not suggesting every go full-on Peter Finch in Network (I’M MAD AS HELL AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE IT ANYMORE!!) or rage into the night and next day where it ruins your evening and keeps your family at arms length, I am here to tell you that it’s ok if this still pisses you off a little. You’re still alive and you still believe. Hang in there - this was never going to be a Central Florida type turnaround. Too little strength and conditioning combined with a culture of happy indifference will be few years to fix. Hang tough.
This week, it’s Purdue and they are in a similar boat, or choo-choo as it were, to the Huskers. With their starting QB and best player both shelved (Rondale Moore appears doubtful), how will the Boilermakers attack the game this Saturday? Here to answer our burning questions is Travis Miller from Hammer & Rails. Thanks much for your time, Travis!
And away we go:
Both of these teams like to turn the ball over. How important do you think that will be on Saturday in determining the outcome of the game?
I think it will be critical. On Saturday against Illinois Purdue fell behind 3-0 and it already felt insurmountable because we couldn’t throw in the rain. Jack Plummer was then pick-sixed and 10-0 felt like 100-0 in that weather. That pick-6 and the five turnovers against Nevada are a large reason Purdue is currently 2-6 and not 4-4. We have struggled to forces turnovers all year and in the one game we did well there, against Maryland, we won going away.
Do you have a kicker you can spare for 3 or 4 hours on Saturday?
Should have asked us last year. Spencer Evans was in his second year as a grad transfer and got established in the role so well that J.D Dellinger, who was the main guy in 2016 as a true freshman and split duties with Evans in 2017 was able to do the extremely rare scholarship kicker redshirt in year 3. He even got to take a few kicks but hold on to it thanks to the new redshirt rules when Evans had the flu vs. Boston College and Dellinger had to come in for about half a game.
Other than that, we have some walk-ons.
Elijah Sindelar is out. Who will replace him and how good is he?
Jack Plummer is a redshirt freshman QB and he has done fairly well for himself. His first start against TCU was shaky and last week the weather was a major hindrance to the passing game, but overall I have been very pleased with him. He’s thrown for 1,361 yards and 9 TDs against 6 INTs and has a lot of promise for the future. He put up big numbers against Maryland and Iowa, but struggled against Penn State. I think what was most telling was that he came in against Minnesota when Sindelar got hurt and had a serviceable 245 and 2 TDs. He’s going to be very good, we think.
Who are 2-3 players on each side of the ball (outside of Rondale Moore if he plays) should Husker fans keep an eye on?
On defense George Karlaftis is a freshman stud that is already making a name for himself. The true freshman leads Purdue in sacks and tackles for loss and he hasn’t even had a monster game yet. He is relentless with a great motor and is going to be a star.
David Bell has been excellent of last as well. He is putting up Moore-like numbers when it is pouring rain and is already statistically one of the best receivers in the Big Ten. Oh, and he is also a true freshman.
A few other freshmen that have had some really good moments are Cory Trice (cornerback who had two interceptions, one a pick-6, against Maryland), King Doerue (the closest thing we really have to a running game, but he was good against Minnesota), Jalen Graham (solid freshman safety) and Marvin Grant (4-star outside receiver).
The biggest thing is that Purdue is playing a lot of young guys all over the place. This is really our 2020 if not 2021 starting lineup in about 17 positions, it seems.
Reviewing the media notes on this game - Purdue’s AD spends a fair amount of time emphasizing freshmen. AD notes can be notoriously full of saccharine. Are the Purdue freshmen that impressive relative to the upperclassmen, or is this just hope?
I think a little of both. Darrell Hazell and Danny Hope struggled to have recruiting classes rated in the top 65 nationally and in the top 10 in the Big Ten. Hazell I don’t think had one above 13th in the league. Brohm’s first full class in 2018 was better, but his 2019 class was the first legit top 25 national class in more than 15 years, and his 2020 class is looking more the same.
We started the season with only 20 scholarship juniors and seniors. Eight of those have missed at least one game (plus that Rondale Moore guy, who is decent). Our top defensive lineman and possible first round pick hasn’t played a snap on defense. Our top linebacker has been out since the third game of the year. We lost our starting quarterback and All-American wide receiver on the same damn play. We were always going to be a young team this year, but injuries to seemingly every key upperclassman has made it worse.
There is a lot of excitement for the talent Brohm is bringing in simply because they are better than we have seen over the last decade. They’re still very young (and his 2020 class is not here yet), and what experience we have is banged up. Before last week I thought salvaging a bowl after everything would be a great step forward. Now even getting to 4-8 seems tough. I do think the long term still looks very bright, however, especially if the offensive line grows.
What happens Saturday?
I honestly have no idea. Every time I am confident in this team they take a step back. When I am down on them, they take a step forward. Right now the Nevada collapse really stings and I would love another shot at Illinois outside of a bog. I think pretty much anything could happen. Plummer could go for 400 yards and 3 TDs like he did against Maryland. He could also struggle to move the ball at all like against TCU. My understanding of Nebraska is the same. Maybe we get another disjointed 100 point shootout like in 2015. If both teams are bad you might as well score a lot of points and have fun, right?