Purdue fans will be out in full force during homecoming.
With the blowout loss to the Wisconsin Badgers last Saturday, the Purdue Boilermakers’ record dropped to 1-3 on the season.
Saying they could use a win against the Northern Illinois Huskies this Saturday would be an understatement of epic proportions.
They need one in the worst way.
The two teams have faced off once before, a 28-21 Northern Illinois victory in 2009.
That NIU team was led by the 2012 Mr. Irrelevant.
This one is led by a dark horse for the Heisman.
In any case, Purdue will be returning this week to the friendly confines of Ross-Ade Stadium—during homecoming, no less—a place where they’ve always got a shot.
Here’s what you need to know for the game.
Time: Noon ET
Place: Ross-Ade Stadium, West Lafayette, Ind.
TV: ESPN 2, WatchESPN (online)
Radio: XM Station 192, SIRI 138
Spread: Northern Illinois by 3.5, according to Odds Shark
Containing Jordan Lynch will be crucial for a Boilermaker victory
Contain Jordan Lynch
That’s a task that is much, much easier said than done, but the Boilermakers do have some hope.
Their defensive coordinator, Greg Hudson, was Florida State’s linebackers coach last season, the same team that held Lynch to 44 yards on the ground and 176 yards through the air in the Orange Bowl.
The basis of the Florida State game plan was to make Lynch beat them deep, and it worked to perfection.
Lynch was an abysmal 2-of-11 with an interception on passes thrown 10 yards or longer.
With Lynch’s dominance in the ground game (404 yards and two touchdowns), making Lynch throw it deep may be their best bet.
Take Advantage of Northern Illinois’ Defense
This could be the worst defense that Purdue plays all season.
The 27 points they allowed to Iowa was acceptable, but last week, they surrendered 39 points to Eastern Illinois, an FCS team.
In their previous game, they allowed 35 points to an 0-4 Idaho team that’s only scored 16 points in their other three games combined.
Their defense is bad, 90th in the nation in scoring defense bad.
For Purdue to win, they’ll need to keep pace with NIU’s high-powered offense, and they may be able to do just that.
Cameron Stingily's running ability will be an asset for Northern Illinois on Saturday.
Run Right at the Boilers
To put it lightly, Purdue has struggled against the run this season when facing teams that favor the ground. Against Wisconsin, the Boilermakers gave up 380 yards on the ground.
Northern Illinois is not Wisconsin, but they are 11 in the nation in rushing yards per game at 295.3.
Wisconsin did their damage with three running backs, but Northern Illinois’ weapons of choice are two running backs (Cameron Stingily and Tommylee Lewis) and an incredibly mobile quarterback (Lynch).
While Wisconsin’s solid running backs tormented Purdue, a mobile quarterback has also given the Boilers fits: Cincinnati’s Munchie Legaux.
He threw for 145 yards and a touchdown and ran for 55 yards and a score (on only six attempts) in the 42-7 blowout.
Running the ball will be key for the Huskies in this game.
Stop Purdue on Kickoff Returns
Northern Illinois has done well on kickoff coverage this season, allowing only 251 yards through three games.
That will come in handy against Purdue’s return unit, one of the team’s most dangerous weapons.
Akeem Hunt has already returned one for a score this season and boasts a 32.3 average on nine returns this season.
Raheem Mostert led the FBS in kickoff return average (33.5) as a true freshman. Now a junior, teams have chosen to kick away from him this season, which NIU may opt to do as well.
And B.J. Knauf has stepped as well this season when given the opportunity, returning four kicks for 101 yards.
While the Purdue offense has struggled, the special teams play has shined.
Northern Illinois will need to keep these players in check on Saturday to keep Ross-Ade Stadium from shifting the momentum toward Purdue in the blink of an eye.
Ricardo Allen was injured against Wisconsin, but he'll be integral in Purdue's campaign to stop Jordan Lynch.
This is the time to shine for Henry.
As previously mentioned, Northern Illinois has struggled mightily on defense, but they’ve especially had difficulty trying to stop the passing game.
They gave up 450 yards and six touchdowns to Eastern Illinois’ Jimmy Garoppolo just last week.
Henry showed glimpses of his potential against Notre Dame, but for the most part, he’s been inconsistent and ineffective.
This serves as his best chance to show why he is Purdue’s best option at quarterback.
Purdue’s top cornerback (and their number two corner, Frankie Williams, for that matter) was injured against Wisconsin but is expected to play.
Playing against one of the top quarterbacks in the FBS, it will be interesting to see how well Allen can come back from injury.
He’s done it on numerous occasions, but he will be tested to his limit on Saturday.
He has disappointed on the ground so far this season, but he has also been excellent on kickoffs and through the air, leading the team in both.
Ideally, Hunt would use this game to start a run of ground dominance, but even if he is stuck to contributing in other areas, he will be the most talented (and versatile) player on the field for Purdue.
Safety Jimmie Ward should be a factor against Purdue's struggling pass offense.
Any time you have a potential Heisman candidate on a MAC team, he will be the most entertaining player to watch.
Lynch has had a phenomenal season thus far, passing for 662 yards and seven touchdowns and adding 404 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.
He’s the team leader in both.
Ward is the unquestioned leader on the defensive side of the ball.
The safety picked off a pass against Iowa in the closing minutes to seal the win against their first Big Ten opponent of the season.
The Huskies have a below average defense, but Ward has been a solid player, leading the team with 30 tackles on the year.
If Henry lets down his guard, Ward will probably be the one to take advantage.
Lynch hasn’t been the only contributor in the rushing attack this season.
Stingily could also be a problem for Purdue’s defense.
He carved Eastern Illinois’ defense for 134 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries just last week and has 238 yards and three touchdowns on the season.
If Purdue focuses all of their attention on stopping Lynch, Stingily would be the biggest benefactor.
Darrell Hazell is worried about more than Jordan Lynch's running ability on Saturday.
Purdue Head Coach Darrell Hazell is worried about more than Lynch’s running ability, according to Mike Carmin of JCOnline.
“He’s throwing it a little bit more, he’s throwing it a little bit better,” Hazell said of Lynch. ”He’s going to run the ball 20-25 times Saturday. He’s a very strong guy and he’s going to break a lot of tackles.”
Shannon Ryan of the Chicago Tribune reports that Northern Illinois players aren’t focusing on being the favorites going into the game and how Darrell Hazell says his previous experience in the MAC (he spent two seasons with Kent State) will only help.
"It's still another game we need to go out and win," Northern Illinois tight end Luke Eakes said. "If we're favored, we're favored. We can't look at stats."
"You've seen them up close and personal," Hazell said. "They're still a great football team. They do a lot of things offensively that create issues. … They play extremely hard. They play with passion."
Northern Illinois Head Coach Rod Carey is not underestimating Purdue, despite their recent struggles, according to Vinnie Duber of CSNChicago.com.
“It's going to present every bit of a challenge that you want in a football game,” Carey said. “We're going to have to come out and play well to give ourselves an opportunity in the fourth quarter and be where we want to be. We got a lot of work ahead of us."
Northern Illinois may very well be celebrating their fourth win of the season this Saturday.
Northern Illinois 42, Purdue 31
With two struggling defenses, expect a high-scoring affair, but the Northern Illinois offense is a lot more explosive than Purdue’s.
That’s why the Huskies should come out with the win in the end, even with Purdue’s best efforts on homecoming.
With a win, Northern Illinois would have an easy path (with the exception of Ball State) to an undefeated season, with the rest of their opponents having a combined record of 9-23.
And with a loss, Purdue would have a hard time making a bowl game this season. Needing five more wins on the season to achieve that goal, the rest of their schedule includes Nebraska, at Michigan State, Ohio State, Iowa, at Penn State, Illinois and at Indiana.