When Nebraska faces Purdue on Saturday, the Blackshirts must be ready for surprises from the Boilermakers.
At first glance, it might be easy to overlook Purdue. The Boilermakers are only averaging 87 rushing yards per game at the moment.
However, the Blackshirts need to be prepared. Nebraska's defensive coordinator, John Papuchis, knows that.
Hail Varsity's Grant Muessel recently chatted with Papuchis and the defensive staff about the trip to West Lafayette. Papuchis acknowledged that there isn't much film on Purdue's freshman quarterback, Danny Etling, to use in preparation.
With only limited snaps for the Boilermakers to date, Etling will make his first career start against Nebraska. Papuchis told Muessel that the Blackshirts are making the best of the film that they do have:
We got online and started watching a little bit of his high school stuff. Just to kind of get a feel for who he is and what he’s about. He’s a big, strong-armed kid, he’s a talented player. Obviously it’s his first start, so will see, but we respect his arm.
What Etling currently brings to Purdue is the element of the unknown. Plus, Boilermakers head coach Darrell Hazell told The News-Sentinel's Pete DiPrimio that Etling is preparing like any veteran would.
He prepares like a nine-year vet in the league. He studies the film. He's in there at 6 in the morning. He takes meticulous three-, four- or five-page notes. He wants to know the answers to the test.
Hazell even boasted about Etling's many talents:
He can make every throw. He can throw the deep ball. He can throw sideline to sideline and goal line to goal line. When you do that, you involve the wide receivers. That's what we want to do -- play sideline to sideline offensively.
With those talents, the Blackshirts need to be ready to adjust.
Defensive backs coach Terry Joseph is preparing for surprises. He told Muessel that the coaches have to be careful against Etling, but sticking to what the team knows is just as important:
The good thing is, is that the way we try to teach the defense off of concepts is that the adjustments that we make in any game are going to be tweaks to our original gameplan. We never go into a game and change something from ground zero. It’ll just be a little tweak here or there to change up the look, or send a different guy on a blitz, or change our leverage late in the down, but we really don’t like starting from ground zero unless something major is going on.
That's the right approach, too.
The Blackshirts have had plenty of ups and downs for one season already. Against UCLA alone, Nebraska's defense showcased the extreme highs and lows they are capable of in one game.
Since then, the Huskers have been on a mission for consistency. Against Illinois, the Blackshirts made a big step in the right direction.
The defense did a good job of putting pressure on quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase during the matchup with the Illini. Moreover, much of that pressure came without needing to blitz much. By the end of the game, Nebraska had two sacks on Scheelhaase.
This will be a concern for the Boilermakers, who have allowed 11 sacks in five games. However, the Purdue offense was different through most of those games.
Etling changes things.
While senior quarterback Rob Henry was in charge, Nebraska could have counted on some of his weaknesses. With Etling, no one knows what to expect.
Against Northern Illinois, Etling completed 48.7 percent of his passes for two touchdowns and two interceptions. He also threw for 241 yards.
Nebraska must be ready to defend the pass. If given the opportunity, the Huskers' secondary will take advantage of any opportunity to intercept the ball. However, the Blackshirts are currently giving up 263 passing yards and 25.5 points per game.
Etling is young. He will make mistakes. He also has nothing to lose, though.
The type of offense Etling runs has yet to be truly seen. Nebraska will be the first test for the young quarterback. Because of that, the Blackshirts will need to be ready to adjust at any time.
Purdue will test Nebraska's young defense just like every team has up until this point. How the Blackshirts respond will be a testament to the talent of this group.
Needless to say, many will be looking for an outcome similar to that of the Illinois game. A strong showing from the Blackshirts will make any potential win that much sweeter.
The Huskers will just need to be ready for surprises from the Boilermakers to make that possible.