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Winner Stays in First: The CORN NATION Q&A With Purdue

And if Minnesota beats Illinois, the winner is ALL alone in 1st place in the Big 10 West. Chew on that for a moment.

Purdue v Nebraska
O’Connell dropping back. Get used to seeing that Saturday night. A lot.
Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images

That’s not a joke above. Currently, Nebraska, Purdue and Illinois are in a three-way tie for first place in the West with 2-1 records and Illinois plays 1-1 Minnesota. If Minnesota beats Illinois, no longer an easy proposition, the Nebraska-Purdue winner will atop the division by a 12 game over Gophers.

The Oklahoma game feels like a lot longer than two games ago, does she not?

All that being said, the Boilermakers will be a big step up in competition from the undermanned Hoosiers and scrappy but out-talented Scarlet Knights. CJ Stroud is the one with the Heisman talk, but a case could be made that Purdue QB Aiden O’Connell is the best passer in the conference. He will be showing the arm off plenty as he not thrown it less than 40 times in a game he didn’t exit early this season.

We know what’s on our minds in Nebraska, but as always, we want to pick the opponent’s brain for their thoughts. Joining us once again from Purdue’s Hammer and Rails is Travis Miller. He discusses O’Connell’s development, the emergence of Iowa transfer Charlie Jones and, for those of you making the trip to West Lafayette, some fantastic suggestions for hitting the town. Thanks once again to Travis and here we go:

1) Let’s get right into our questions about Purdue! So, who do you think the Huskers should hire as their next permanent head coach?

Man, since Frost didn’t work out I have no idea. He was a no-brainer, but when “Scott Frost Day” became a thing right off the bat he never recovered. It would be like if Drew Brees became a coach and went undefeated at like, Ball State, before we brought him home, then he became Darrell Hazell. None of his failures made any sense, but they became self-perpetuating after a while.

Nebraska needs someone that can come in and do a total overhaul, plus he needs the fanbase to be patient (good luck with that). The guy at Kansas is probably the hot candidate right now and I don’t blame you. If he walks into Norman this week and beats Oklahoma that only adds another million or two to his offer.

Just have some dignity and don’t go after Urban Meyer, even though he did struggle big time with Purdue.

2) Last year before this game, I was wondering if Aidan O’Connell might be in danger of losing his starting job back to Jack Plummer. Instead, he tossed a couple TD’s against the Huskers, then threw for 536 yards in an upset of then #3 Michigan State and never looked back. What do you think got him over the hump?

He finally got over his interception bug that plagued him early last season. He really began to nail down the job with the upset at Iowa, but the Nebraska-Michigan State stretch fully locked it down. Having a stud receiver like David Bell helped, but the emergence of Charlie Jones this year has been a pleasant surprise.

I think much of it is just repetition and maturity. He now holds the single season and career completion percentage records at Purdue, and both by a wide margin. He finished last year red hot and given the limitations he had at receiver in the bowl game he showed he can throw the ball to just about anyone. I love the way he is spreading the ball around to multiple guys. That got him out of a pickle at Maryland, as the Terps closed off Charlie Jones. He has had a few more picks of late, but overall he is fine.

There has also at least been the hint of a running game this year. Purdue was awful on the ground last year. This year Devin Mockobee has emerged as a very pleasant surprise as a walk-on redshirt freshman running back that is a former state long jump and track champion. With King Doerue and now Dylan Downing both out this week Mockobee will get even more carries this week, and he has a very nice burst if he has a hole.

Purdue v Maryland Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

3) With 603 yards and 7 of the team’s 13 receiving TD’s, Charlie Jones has certainly stepped right into the David Bell role. Was this out of the blue, totally expected or somewhere in between? Also, what are similarities and/or differences in their styles of play.

I really think it is out of the blue. We knew we were getting a good return man in Jones, but I expected Broc Thompson (the bowl game hero who has been limited with injuries), Mershawn Rice, and TJ Sheffield to be the top receivers. Jones has even outperformed Bell to this point of the season and is on pace to have the best single season in school history.

You think he likes being out of the Iowa “offense”?

Jones brings a unique mix of speed, shiftiness, and steady hands. He doesn’t catch every single thing thrown to him like Bell, but he has excellent hands. He is more elusive and quicker than Bell, though not at a Rondale Moore level. He is basically AOC’s security blanket, and so far it is working very well.

Purdue v Syracuse Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images

4) George Karlaftis may be performing in Kansas City now, but the Boilermaker defense has held its three Big 10 opponents under 100 yards rushing. Who would be the player most responsible for that so far? Have the Boilermakers been truly that tough against the run or are teams just going straight to the air?

I think there is an asterisk there because Minnesota did not play Mo Ibrahim for unknown reasons. Still, the run defense has been the best I have seen in a very long time for us. Even in a loss, we held a very good Sean Tucker with Syracuse mostly in check. I think it is a team effort, too. The defensive line is not allowing big holes to be opened and they are doing a good job at staying home. We have also been able to rotate a lot of guys to keep people fresh. What we are seeing right now is the greatly improved recruiting from Brohm’s first few years paying dividends, as most of these guys are experienced juniors and seniors.

The pass defense is also mostly okay, but it is feast or famine. It can make a huge play about as often as it gives up a big play. We’re near the top of the conference in interceptions, but the last two minutes of halves have been ugly as hell on pass defense. Jalen Graham, perhaps our best defender, returned last week after missing three games, so that helps a ton too.

5) The Huskers and our fans hit the road for the second straight week after over a month at home following the Disaster in Dublin. Where around the stadium (or farther away if worth it) should visiting fans go to eat, drink and be merry? Is there a local haunt which travelers should absolutely make sure to visit?

The most famous restaurant for Purdue is Triple XXX on the hill with several dishes named after Purdue greats. I am a fan of the Duane Purvis All-American myself. Bruno’s a little down the hill is also great and has a ton of vintage Purdue memorabilia. It is one of my favorites. Also, I LOVE Harry’s Chocolate Shop, the over 100 year old bar that is iconic for Purdue students. It is packed on game days, however. It is the home of my absolute favorite piece of memorabilia, and you can see it on their website. They have a piece of the goal post from the 1967 Rose Bowl, our only Rose Bowl win.

Syndication: Journal-Courier Nikos Frazier / Journal & Courier via Imagn Content Services, LLC

6) Finally, picks time. In our pre-season Big 10 predictions roundtable, I was very, very high on Purdue and all of that is still 100% on the table. Purdue is still a -13 1⁄2 favorite coming off three straight wins, however they are facing someone no one else has faced in almost 4 years - a Husker team coming off back-to-back Big 10 wins. Now based on how our our O-line has looked as well as the level of competition jumping up, that line might be right.

However -

The Nebraska curse is real. The three opponents who vanquished us - Northwestern, Georgia Southern & Oklahoma - are a combined 1-11 since playing us. So go ahead and make your pick, but...your move, Purdue.

Hehehehe. I am still pretty high on Purdue. We’re 4-2, but we’re really about 2 plays from being 6-0. Penn State needed about five things to go exactly right in order to squeeze past us in the opener. If only four of those go right, Purdue wins. At Syracuse we had a complete meltdown in the final minute with penalties, otherwise that is a win. On the other side of the coin, we stopped late two-point conversions against both Florida Atlantic and Maryland to avoid overtime, and Minnesota was a tie game with five minutes left. Shift a few things in those games and we’re 1-5 right now.

We are coming off of two road wins though, and the defense has been playing very well overall. We’ve got the momentum of a three game win streak and AOC seems to have gotten his groove back last week after missing the FAU game and being limited at Minnesota. I think Nebraska keeps it close for a bit, but Purdue pulls away for about a 10 point win.

Nebraska Cornhuskers
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