We’re going to be saying it every week or until the 7th loss, but this is a make or break game for Nebraska. In fact, given the Ohio St., Wisconsin and Iowa gauntlet waiting for them down the road, Purdue may be THE top must-win game on the docket. A 3-0 finish for bowl eligibility may not be impossible, but it’s definitely a tall order.
So what do we know about Purdue other than they beat Iowa to knock them down from their #2 ranking? Joining us in the Q&A from Purdue’s Hammer & Rails is Travis Miller who graciously took time out to answer our burning questions. Thanks much, Travis, and let’s dive right in:
With the Boilermakers sitting at 4-3 just over midway through the season, most notably including a huge upset over then #2 Iowa, where would you rank their 2021 performance versus expectations? Right about what you expected? Better? Worse?
Personally, I think we’re right where we are. I felt that we needed to go 3-1 in the first four and we did just that. The win over Oregon State in the opener is even looking very good. I felt the Minnesota game was a hinge game between “fight for a bowl” and “door is open to 8-9 wins. I was strangely confident about Iowa all along because Brohm has done extremely well against Ferentz (now 4-1) and has had a receiver just go nuts against them in all five games. I thought it was a great chance at a road upset all along. Then Wisconsin did what Wisconsin always does to us.
In many ways it is better and worse. The defense has been mostly great and a significant improvement over the last few years. The offense has been a disappointment. It turns out that when you have four medical retirements over the summer, sapping the offensive line depth, plus some running back transfers and injuries, it doesn’t help the offense. Jeff Brohm was brought in to have a free-wheeling offense that put up points, but it has never truly materialized except in spurts (Like a 35-3 win at MIssouri where it scored on the first three drives and knocked them out early). The lines have not been great, but in the past he has had solid backs and a good scheme around it. Once Zander Horvath went down this year that lack of depth in the backfield was exposed.
In short, if we had a true Brohmfense Purdue is potentially undefeated right now. The defense is that good. There are no easy fixes to it, either, unless you parachute in about five 6’7” 320 pound guys.
Aidan O’Connell had appeared to lock down the QB job after big games against Minnesota and Iowa, but the interception bug bit him again with three picks against Wisconsin. Is there another starter switch coming or is the door at least open for Jack Plummer if O’Connell turns it over early on Saturday?
O’Connell is the guy right now, but Plummer may play. Brohm confused the hell out of Iowa by playing O’Connell, Plummer, and Austin Burton, who is by far the most mobile of the three. This was done to generate something, anything in the run game, and it worked vs. Iowa. On one drive a different QB took the snap on three successive plays (ironically with the least mobile, O’Connell, getting the first rushing TD of his career. We tried it last week and it was a disaster. Sitting at my desk right now I ran for more yards than Purdue as a team.
O’Connell has moved the offense the best, but turnovers have plagued him. He threw two picks as a sub against Illinois before leading the game-winning drive. He threw two at Notre Dame as he was brought in to spark a stagnant offense. He had a backbreaker as Purdue was driving to tie vs. Minnesota, and he killed any chance at a win last week with his three (and a fourth was a completion that was immediately fumbled). I do like that he has led four game-winning 4th quarter, less than 5 minute drives in his career. If he is playing with confidence he can be pretty good, but the first pick makes the second more likely, which makes the third more likely and so on.
After some big games, the Badgers also found a way to keep David Bell in check. On the Huskers side of the ball, Cam Taylor-Britt has begun playing like the NFL draft pick they expect him to be after some early struggles. Assuming they’ll face off a few times, how do you expect that battle to play out?
Wisconsin really bracketed Bell and made sure he wasn’t catching the ball in space. He was wide open all day against Iowa and they could not stop him in single coverage even with a good CB on him. Bell wants single coverage. He feasts on it. He is so precise in his routes he can take a single cover corner out of the game. The only one that really slowed him down singlehandedly was Greg Newsome II of Northwestern last year, and he was the 26th overall pick in the draft.
Purdue’s defense has been especially salty this season with Wisconsin being the first team this season to manage 30 points on them. What’s a name on Purdue’s side of the ball whom Husker fans will remember after Saturday?
George Karlaftis. He makes everything go. The overall numbers are not eye-popping, but he demands so much attention he opens up everything else defensively. If he has a double-team (which is constant), someone else is free. If he is in the neighborhood of a QB he forces a bad throw. If you watch the Iowa game he only had one tackle (it was a sack,at least), but he completely disrupted the entire offense by himself with pressure and hurries. Against Wisconsin he picked up a fumble and returned it 50+ yards for a score.
The defense gave up 30 last week mostly because it was exhausted and worn down by their constant run game, plus Purdue’s offense did them no favors. It was still a 20-13 game with 13 minutes left and Purdue was in Wisconsin territory before O’Connell threw a pick. The previous week Purdue had long, successful drives and it allowed them to sit on Iowa and give up nothing in the second half. The numbers against the past are a little skewed because UConn, Iowa, Minnesota, Oregon State, and Illinois are some of the worst passing teams in the country, but it has still done pretty well. Last week was the first week where missed tackles started to burn them.
We all have our favorite team, but sometimes the enemy of your enemy becomes your friend and we all have that program who just frankly pisses us off. Complete the following sentence - “My second favorite team every Saturday is whoever is playing ______?” Feel free to add some abusive comments explaining why.
This year it is Indiana. Most of the time they can be safely ignored because Indiana football is a complete non-entity, but they have two decent seasons (one due to a pandemic) and they talked an inordinate amount of shit. Yeah, they won 15 games, but I think only 1-2 were against teams with a winning record. When one ESPN projection had them 10th and a threat to make the playoff I was like, “come the f*** on”. Yes, they have played a brutal schedule against five teams that have spent time in the top 10 this year, but if you’re really that good you have to win one of them. It is a joy to see them shut up and not even really be competitive in what was supposed to be their greatest season ever. Hopefully the same happens in basketball because Mike Woodson is the latest Annointed Savior.
Oh, and f*** Penn State. They should have gotten a permanent death penalty and had their stadium razed brick by brick for the Sandusky thing. “But what about the current players that were never involved?” If they were good enough to be recruited by Penn State they would easily find a place to play elsewhere. They should have been booted from the Big Ten and the earth of their stadium salted so nothing would grow anymore.
(Andy’s note: I’ll bring the damned salt.)
Prediction time - Purdue vs. Nebraska in Lincoln at 2:30 pm (And not 11am for some odd reason. What’s happening right now?) Who comes away with the W and what will the final be?
I have no earthly idea what will happen. These are two chaos teams that can play extremely well for stretches, then have bullet riddled shoes for others. I tend to side with the team that has the better offense though. Purdue’s line is not going to magically get better. We’re not going to have a running game come out of nowhere. O’Connell cannot make the mistakes he made last week and has to play a clean game like he did against Iowa. If Purdue has to play catch up it is not going to go well. I think Nebraska wins and pulls away like Wisconsin. I have no confidence in an offense that has only put up 13 points in four of the past five games.