NIU Predicto: Homecoming Edition
It’s that time again. The leaves are getting ready to change, Purdue is playing a homecoming game in September (err, wha?) and the Boilers have a MAC team in town to absorb the pounding they so richly deserve FOR HAVING THE TEMERITY TO SAUNTER INTO A BIG TEN SCHOOL’S BUILDING!
Oh, wait, sorry, I just had a flashback to the Jim Colletto era, when Purdue teams routinely demolished squads from the MAC. I forgot we now live in the world – and have since about 1997 – where Purdue sometimes loses to these teams, even in good years where they’re beating Ohio State or Notre Dame. Oh, and hey, even more fun – now we never have any idea what’s going to happen. Exciting, right? Well, maybe not as much as you might think.
So here comes NIU, Purdue’s third consecutive 2012 BCS bowl opponent. Mercy. When Purdue’s schedule was ranked as the fourth-toughest in the entire country, this is the sort of stretch explaining why.
But hey, don’t worry – after this weekend, the Boilers have a week off before facing Nebraska at home and MSU on the road. Eeek.
But then there’s another bye week!
Followed by OSU.
As for this week’s predicto, let’s get into it.
Hey, at least we’re good at something. This week represents one of those games that actually might present some challenge with regard to picking. So let’s see…
This certainly is not your father’s MAC team (i.e., automatically pummelable). They went 12-2 last season, including 8-0 against the MAC. And before you sneer at that, ask yourself how many Big Ten teams could have gone 12-2 (8-0) with that schedule. They return the bulk of their offense, including Jordan Lynch who to me feels like one of those guys who has been at NIU forever. Lynch has a 63% completion percentage and in NIU’s last game he passed for 235 and rushed for 189 (on 22 carries, for 8.2 per carry) as the Huskies overcame a 20-0 first quarter deficit. So, uh, yeah, I think maybe the Boilers should spy on this guy.
On the other hand, NIU gives up points in bunches. They’ve allowed 27 (to Iowa), 35 (to a horrendously bad Idaho team) and 39 points to Eastern Illinois. So yeah, Purdue has no excuse to not score this weekend. (But hey, we said that about Boilerdowd for years and he failed to score many times, no matter how many Keith Sweat albums I lent him.)
That said, Purdue has looked offensively anemic all season. Despite two very strong drives against Notre Dame, the offense has been exceptional quiet. Maybe Coach Shoop can draw up 10 or 12 broken plays for Rob Henry like the one against Wisconsin that resulted in a TD. I wish I had more answers, folks, but I do think this game has the potential to dislodge Rob from the starter’s role. That said, if the Boilers put up points (win or lose), you might be in for more frustration if you’re longing to see the young guys.
I was fooled by NIU a couple of years ago and this is a far better NIU team. Purdue as compared to 2009? Still spinning wheels in the mud. I won’t be fooled again.
NIU 35, Purdue 33
As usual, this game will be determined by which Purdue team shows up. If the fired up team shows up AND they catch a few early breaks then they will win. If the beaten down team that doesn't seem to care shows up then they will lose. The psyche of the team still dictates too much of the end results. They obviously have talent on the team. However, they're so used to losing that if anything at all goes wrong then they surrender. They got steamrolled on the road last week and they're underdogs at home this week to a Huskies team that's already beaten Iowa this year. The losing will continue until the morale improves. It's stupid, but it appears to be the case with this team. Until I see some consistency I don't have anything else to add that hasn't already been said.
NIU 30, Purdue 24
Less than a year ago, Darrell Hazell faced a Northern Illinois team in a game with a BCS berth on the line. The Huskies went on to win a thrilling double-overtime game and take the Orange Bowl berth, while Hazell got the job in West Lafayette ... a good outcome for both sides.
Much has changed since late November. Northern Illinois was two points away from a perfect regular season in 2012, and although they did avenge last season's loss to Iowa, they gave up 27 points in doing so; all last year, NIU gave up 27 or more points just three times, once to Army (defending triple-option teams is a very difficult task), and twice to ranked teams (Kent State and Florida State). After the Iowa game, they gave up 35 to a winless Idaho team that is relatively new to I-A football, and 39 to I-AA Eastern Illinois. On the other side of the ball, Hazell is running a team with an offense perhaps as bad as NIU's defense. (It's not as though things are better with the team he left. Kent State has only beaten I-AA Liberty, and escaped that game with a 7-point win.) There are no realistic BCS thoughts in either camp; if anything, they might both welcome a return trip to Ford Field, given the probable alternatives.
Unfortunately for the Good Guys, the other side of the ball doesn't present a similar matchup. While Purdue has shown some significant flaws on defense, particularly against Cincinnati and Wisconsin, the Huskies' vaunted rushing attack is averaging nearly 300 yards per game, albeit against relatively weak competition, and at 6.24 yards per carry, they're not facing too many second-and-longs ... but they're just 17 of 47 on third downs. (Don't put too much stock into that stat, though. Among the teams ranked below NIU in conversion percentage is Alabama.)
Senior QB Jordan Lynch is seventh in I-A, averaging 134.7 yards per game on the ground. It's perhaps worth mentioning that Iowa limited him to 56 yards on 22 carries, except they seem to have picked the wrong poison, as Lynch was 25 of 41 for 275 yards, 3 TDs, and no picks. Over the past several years, Purdue defenses have been rather poor at recognizing that the guy taking the snap can actually run with the ball. If Greg Hudson hasn't fixed that yet, Saturday will be a long day for Boiler fans.
There is a real opportunity here for Rob Henry to show that he's learning the offense we're likely to see the next couple of years in Ross-Ade. If he can't take advantage of a weak NIU defense, we're unlikely to see much from him once the Big Ten schedule resumes. I think he'll be able to make some plays, but I don't think it'll be enough.
Northern Illinois 7 13 10 7 - 37
Purdue 6 7 7 7 - 27
First I'd like to welcome back everyone for homecoming this weekend, unfortunately, I'm not sure the team is going to give you such a great greeting. Coming off an awful performance against Wisconsin, Purdue is looking to rebound. Last week Purdue allowed 388 yards on the ground against a powerful Wisconsin team. This week they face another team with a ground attack. This season the Huskies have racked up enough yards on the ground to be in the top 20 in this stat. Being a MAC school they aren't scared of the big bad B1G either, earlier this season they defeated Iowa on the road. Darrell Hazell is familiar with the Huskies, but under a new coach the schemes more than likely have changed a bit, either way this is a good football team. Purdue will have to be amped up to be successful in this one, it will be very interesting to see how this team responds after losing two in a row. I think Purdue shows up in this one and gives NIU their first loss of the season.
Purdue 38, NIU 24
The good news:
NIU is a pretty bad defensive team and Purdue needs to break some of the bad patterns they showed on offense v. Wisconsin. Nothing cures ills of a team that struggled against a big, powerful, good defense, like playing a undersized, young and not-too-great defensive unit. They're allowing opposing backs to rush for over 4.5 yards/carry...and the three foes haven't been murderer's row. More noteworthy than that, they allowed a solid I-AA to pass for 450 yards last week. Now Purdue doesn't have the type of passing attack that Eastern Illinois relies upon, but there's no reason to believe Purdue shouldn't be able to move the ball easily all day versus these huskies.
The bad news:
Purdue ranks in the 90s to one hundred TEENS in a lot of categories; not good. And any momentum that the defense had coming off of the UND game was probably halted as Hudson's boys missed 22 tackles while making Wiscy backs look like Barry Sanders and Eric Dickerson.
The worse news is NIU's Lynch is slippery and clever. Offensively, NIU executes the spread running game brilliantly while completing over 63% of their passes. Purdue's front four will need to keep him in front of them to have any success on Saturday. But they have a couple slot receivers and RBs that are very capable of the big play if Purdue over-emphasizes stopping Lynch.
I've always believed that B1G teams shouldn't lose to MAC teams...and I don't care if it's Coach Haze's Kent State team from '12 or Eastern Michigan from any year...B1G teams win about every recruiting battle that is head to head v. MAC teams...so the talent discrepancy is real. The question is, how well does a team run a system, and what are the match-ups. I'm sure Ferentz doesn't read BS, because he allowed his Hawkeyes to get beaten by this very Husky team...and a few years ago Danny Hope had his heart ripped out by Kill's boys in Ross-Ade.
Now, Iowa might have the weakest schedule in the nation thus far...Kevin Wilson and Fred Glass make fun of the Hawkeyes at dinner parties for it; but the weak schedule isn't helping Iowa look any better.
I think Purdue will have the lead heading into the half...but think the same stuff we've seen all season- a slow third quarter will make this game close down the stretch. I'm not sure this Purdue team can win a close game versus a well-coached team...so if they win, they'll have to have a cushion (which I don't think they can build with this offense).
Norther Illinois beats Purdue in another heartbreaker as Purdue's slow-paced offense stalls in the final drive.
NIU 33, Purdue 31