Nebraska Cornhuskers vs. Purdue Boilermakers: Complete Game Preview
The Nebraska football team is ready to hit the road.
In the first road game of the season, the Huskers will travel to West Lafayette, Ind. to face the Purdue Boilermakers. Nebraska enters the matchup at 4-1 on the season, while Purdue is 1-4.
This is only the second time the two programs have ever met. The Boilermakers defeated the Huskers 28-0 in 1958 in West Lafayette. As it currently stands, Purdue is the only Big Ten team Nebraska has never defeated.
The Huskers could change that on Saturday, though.
Will Nebraska take home the victory?
Where: Ross-Ade Stadium, West Lafayette, Ind.
When: Saturday, Oct. 12 at 12 p.m. EST
Watch: Big Ten Network and BTN2GO.com
Listen: Husker Sports Network
Betting Line: Nebraska (-14)
Nebraska's Keys to Victory
Road games are always a test of communication skills. For Nebraska, it will be an even bigger test if veteran quarterback Taylor Martinez is still out with an injury.
Junior wide receiver Kenny Bell summed it up best during the Huskers' weekly press conference, via Huskers.com:
It’s going to be difficult. You might see us struggle at the beginning of the game with communication. I don’t know if Taylor (Martinez) is going this week or not, but if he’s not, that communication will be a little bit different. We’ve been with Taylor for so long that it’ll take us some time to adjust.
Head coach Bo Pelini is confident Martinez will travel regardless. However, the communication will still be tested if redshirt freshman Tommy Armstrong starts. New to starting, Armstrong and the Husker offense will have no choice but to communicate and adjust.
Failure to do so will make this game more difficult than necessary.
2. Run the Ball
Whether the wind forced the game plan or not, offensive coordinator Tim Beck found his group's identity against Illinois. What exactly is the Nebraska identity?
With I-Back Ameer Abdullah leading the way, Nebraska had 50 rushing attempts to only 20 passing attempts against the Illini. Abdullah rushed for a career-high 225 yards and two touchdowns as a part of that.
Pelini confirmed during the postgame press conference that he believed Beck's game plan was good.
Going forward, Beck needs to abide by what works. Passing the ball when needed is fine to shake things up. However, the Huskers saw one of their most fluid games against Illinois.
Why fix what isn't broke?
3. Adjust When Needed
Another highlight from Nebraska's matchup with Illinois was the ability to adjust.
Open gaps at the beginning of the game were corrected by the end. More pressure was forced up front, which allowed Nebraska to sack Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase twice.
Late in the first quarter, Nebraska's defense highlighted its ability to adjust. After Husker defensive end Jason Ankrah sacked Scheelhaase on the previous play, Illinois faced a 4th-and-11 situation. Scheelhaase stayed in the game, forcing Pelini to call a timeout.
During that timeout, Pelini made the proper adjustments. When Scheelhaase launched the ball to wide receiver Steve Hull, Nebraska cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste hit Hull from behind, jolting the ball free.
Had Pelini not made the adjustment, that series could have easily continued for Illinois.
Going forward, Nebraska must continue to make necessary adjustments. It will be crucial to win.
Purdue's Keys to Victory
1. Convert on Third-Down
As of now, Purdue is next to last in the Big Ten in third-down conversions. Prior to Notre Dame, the Boilermakers has a 28 percent third-down conversion rate.
A strong showing against the Fighting Irish did bring their third-down conversion percentage to 65.9 percent, but Purdue should still be worried.
Nebraska's defense may be young, but the unit will take advantage of statistics like these. To stay competitive, Purdue must convert on third down.
If the team does not, it could get ugly fast.
2. Stop the Run
With I-Back Ameer Abdullah leading the way, Nebraska is perfecting its ability to run.
However, Purdue is doing everything to stop the run.
The Boilermakers held Notre Dame to just 91 yards on 31 carries. Even against Cincinnati, when Purdue allowed 221 yards, there was still no 100-yard rusher during their Aug. 31 matchup.
Abdullah will challenge Purdue. However, if the Boilermaker defense continues on the same path, it could be more difficult for Nebraska's runners than usual.
Forcing Nebraska to put the ball in the air will only benefit Purdue. While the Huskers do have talented receivers, errors could happen when the ball is thrown.
Nebraska will be forced to adjust if Purdue stops the run, and that's exactly what the Boilermakers should aim to do.
3. Home-Field Advantage
With over 60,000 seats, Purdue's home field isn't quite as large as Nebraska's. It doesn't matter, though.
The Huskers are bringing 22 new defensive players to this matchup. For those players, this will be the first time playing away from their home stadium.
There is always something to be said about home-field advantage. Purdue should capitalize on it.
Nebraska wide receiver Kenny Bell acknowledged during the Huskers' weekly press conference that away games always present a challenge.
An added benefit for the Boilermakers is that none of Nebraska's team has played in West Lafayette before.
Regardless of crowd size, fans can make any environment tough.
Players to Watch from Nebraska
Tommy Armstrong (RFr., QB)
Redshirt freshman Tommy Armstrong belongs on this week's watch list because this could be his first game as a starter on the road.
With every passing day, it sounds like veteran quarterback Taylor Martinez will be out one more week to heal. If so, Armstrong will be tasked with leading the Huskers against the Boilermakers.
Communication will be big for Armstrong. Wide receiver Kenny Bell noted in the weekly press conference that the offense is used to working with Martinez. However, if Martinez travels with the team, it will help make the situation easier.
Regardless, Armstrong has proved he can handle Nebraska's offense. Against Illinois, he completed eight of 13 passes for 135 yards and two touchdowns. In his two starts, he's 20-of-28 for 304 yards and three touchdowns. The most impressive part? He's without an interception to date.
Armstrong is doing his job. If Saturday goes well, more fans will be calling for a quarterback controversy than ever before.
Randy Gregory (So., DE)
Saturday is a homecoming of sorts for defensive end Randy Gregory. Growing up in Fisher, Ind., just 70 miles from West Lafayette, Gregory originally committed to Purdue out of high school.
On Saturday, he'll instead be facing the Boilermakers.
Gregory isn't shy about his goals. He told the Omaha World Herald that he wanted to knock Scheelhaase out of the Illinois matchup. Some things may be left better unsaid.
However, Gregory doesn't hide from what he wants. When it comes to opposing teams, his goal is to stop the quarterback. He has made that clear time and time again.
Against Purdue, expect Gregory to continue to live by that goal. With family and friends there to watch, Gregory will be more motivated than ever.
For a full depth chart, click here.
Players to Watch from Purdue
Danny Etling (Fr., QB)
Danny Etling is a true freshman. He is also now the Boilermakers' starting quarterback.
"Obviously, it's a dream come true," Etling told ESPN.com. "It's been a dream since I was a kid, to come to Purdue University and be the starting quarterback. It's a very surreal feeling, and it's kind of hard to explain what it feels like. I don't know if I've had this feeling before in my life. But it's a great one."
Etling was a redshirt until head coach Darrell Hazell put him in against Northern Illinois. The Boilermakers were down 27-7 at that time. Etling wouldn't bring the team back for the victory, but it was still enough for the fans.
The new quarterback has a bright future with Purdue. There will be a period of adjustment for Etling, but he'll be fun to watch.
Dan Monteroso (Fr., WR)
Saturday will be big for freshman wide receiver Dan Monteroso.
On August 15, just two days before training camp ended, Monteroso suffered a broken collarbone. It was a devastating injury for the team.
However, Monteroso is projected to share playing time on Saturday with sophomore Danny Anthrop.
In high school, Monteroso had 68 catches as a senior at Saint Clairsville in Ohio. The young wide receiver shows a lost of promise for Purdue, and Saturday will be his first opportunity to show his talent off.
Whether Purdue wins or loses, this is a big victory for Monteroso.
For a full depth chart, click here.
What Are They Saying?
Head Coach Bo Pelini
On road games with young players:
I think it’s always a concern. It’s always an issue. It’s something we’ll talk about. I’m kind of glad the game is early. You get up and go play. Guys are used to getting up early. I think that will help us to a certain extent. I think it will be a good experience for our guys. Some of them have been on road trips, but there’s a difference between being on a road trip and walking out there as a starter in the first play. I think it will be good for us.
On Kenny Bell's one-handed touchdown catch against Illinois:
It was a phenomenal play. I felt bad for the safety because I think the safety thought he had a pick. And I’ve played that position and I’ve been there.
On Ameer Abdullah:
He has such a great attitude. He really has great vision. I’m not comparing him to Barry Sanders. But the way he can put his foot in the ground and he’s going forward and next thing you know, he’s going east-west and creating space. He does a really good job of creating space for himself.
On Taylor Martinez:
Taylor is business as usual right now. I think he felt a lot better yesterday. I think it’s day to day. If he’s ready to play, he’ll play. We’re going to see how the next couple days play out. He’s progressing. He’s getting better. I know he’s itching to get back out there. We’ll just have to see how it plays out.
I think they are going with a young quarterback. I think they are obviously young in their development. The staff has only been together for five or six games, how ever many they’ve played up to this point. They’ve had a week off. We could see some different things. You just have to go off of what you’ve seen up to this point and be ready to make adjustments. You could see a lot of different things. I just know from being in Coach (Darrell) Hazell’s position a few years back, especially early on, he’s trying to figure out his personnel, too. There’s a lot of things that he’s going through, too. You could see a lot of different things. We just have to be ready to adjust. I told our players after the game that we’ll be ready. The first thing we have to do is take care of us. We have to fix us and continue to increase our level of execution and knowledge and get ready to play our best football on Saturday.
Wide receiver Kenny Bell
On Nebraska's first road game of the season:
It’s going to be a challenge, but it’s going to be fun. I remember my first time going on the road. We went to Wyoming and it was a pretty hostile environment. You get flustered a little bit, but I think we have a lot of guys who are great competitors on both sides of the ball.
On the response to his one-handed touchdown catch:
SportsCenter is the only one that really surprised me. That was kind of cool. College Gameday and SportsCenter are the big ones that surprised me. Kirk Herbstreit showed us some love today. That was cool. I’m not used to that. After the catch I said, ‘Oh my God, the ball’s in my hand.’ I was surprised I caught it. I was just blessed to make the play.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes are courtesy of Nebraska's weekly press conference, via Huskers.com.
After five games at home, Nebraska finally hits the road for West Lafayette.
The Huskers really could not have received a better assignment for a first road game. Nebraska wasn't so fortunate previously, though. In 2011, the Huskers were defeated 48-17 by Wisconsin during their first trip on the road. In 2012, they lost 63-38 to Ohio State.
For the first road test of the season, Purdue looks much more manageable.
However, Nebraska does present an interesting situation on defense. With such a young group, 22 of the Huskers' defensive players will play their first away game on Saturday. One benefit is that several of those players were able to travel as redshirts in 2012.
“But there is a difference between being on a road trip and walking out there as a starter on the first play," Pelini noted during his weekly press conference, via Huskers.com.
Nebraska does have an advantage with Purdue starting a true freshman at quarterback. The inexperience will play favorably for the Blackshirts.
The Boilermakers will put up a fight, but it won't be enough. Nebraska's defense gets the feel-good win it needs before heading into a bye week.
Prediction: Nebraska 38, Purdue 13
For complete team coverage and everything Huskers, you can follow Erin on Twitter at @erinsorensen.
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