We All Know Who The REAL Blackshirts Are – The Nebraska Predicto
Purdue gets to travel to Lincoln for the first time since Nebraska joined our illustrious conference a few years ago. In fact, it’s the first time Purdue has ever played at Nebraska, so far as we can tell. The Boilers and Huskers are locked in a completely even battle, in terms of all-time record, with each team taken the same number of victories. (Yeah, one each, but whatever.)
Nebraska’s once-vaunted defense is nicknamed the “blackshirts” because they wear black shirts during practice… but never in games. Makes a lot of sense. Of course, Purdue wears black shirts as part of their regular uniform combo, so we all know who wishes who was who.
One of the things I like to do each week is see if I can rile up the opposing fan base on twitter. Sometimes absolutely none of my punches land and nobody says a word. Other times, @FauxPelini retweets a dig I take and suddenly dozens of mouth-breathing, barely-educated Nebraskaites come out of the cornfields to use “your” wrong and tell us how bad Purdue is. The only other fan base this season that has reacted with as much vigor was Iowa’s, but then that’s because they’re particularly sensitive because they’re constantly worried about their football program turning into Purdue.
Anyway, it was quite entertaining the past couple of days as not one NU fan was able to muster more than, “Yeah, well Purdue sucks!” Be that as it may, it doesn’t change the fact that Nebraska tends to lay an egg or two every year under the slack-jawed Pelini. Even Corn Nation is already couching the ways in which they could see their boys lose this game. WE’RE IN YOUR HEADS, CHILDREN OF THE CORN.
(And, seriously, Nebraska joining the Big Ten kind of took away a couple of monikers. For one, the children of the corn always applied to Iowa in my mind. And of course there is the “NU” issue with both them and Northwestern claiming it.)
So what does the brain trust here think of this weekend? Will it be a thumping against a national power or will Purdue finally put all the pieces together that we’ve seen over the past few games? Well, it depends who you ask…
I said this on the podcast this week and I’ve said it in print recently, too – at least Purdue now has hope every week. It sounds minor but it really isn’t. Purdue simply could not move the football or hope to score more than 10-14 points each game for the better part of a year. But as noted on this here site, Purdue has now scored over 30 points in three straight games, in four of five and in five out of eight overall. Scoring is no longer a problem. I now believe Purdue can overcome even a double-digit deficit. I no longer believe it’s over when they’re down 14-0 at halftime. Of course, they’ve also shown that it really isn’t over when they have a double-digit lead in the second half, either, so the cardiac nature of some past Purdue teams is back, too.
Nebraska is an interesting foe to assess. They are consistently good and a program Purdue fans would love to emulate. Winning a lot of games is nice, but Nebraska – particularly under Bo – seems to find a banana peel at least once a season that just makes no sense. Could it be Purdue? I definitely think it could, but I also think Purdue’s mini-resurgence in recent weeks from doormat into “tough out” is now becoming common knowledge. If Nebraska is indeed well-coached, Purdue isn’t being overlooked.
In Purdue’s favor is the two weeks to prepare and the knowledge that they’re SOOO CLOSE to turning the proverbial corner. It’s possible that even without overlooking them, the Huskers are in for a street fight. In fact, I think that’s the case.
Purdue won’t be able to stop the Cornhusker offense very much, so it’ll be on the offense to pour it on. I think they will keep things fun and entertaining for a while, likely for the majority of the game. A few breaks go Purdue’s way and Nebraska gets tight at the idea of losing to Purdue at home.
That said, I’m not completely insane. While I do now believe Coach Hazell and company fear no one and really could pull the upset, I don’t in my heart feel that it will happen this week.
Nebraska 45 Purdue 35
Good news! With the possible exception of the Iowa game, during Big Tenteen play so far, the Boilers have looked less like a team waiting for the demotion message in NCAA 14 (they still allow conference moves, right?) and more like a team in rebuilding mode. There were multiple sightings of skill players in a Shoop offense actually getting the ball, occasionally leading to that thing where they give the ball to the officials and then kick it. Austin Appleby looks like a guy who should be playing QB. Also, Purdue's unbeaten in Lincoln. Never lost there! Ever! (Of course up until last season, they'd never conceded a point to Nebraska - a 28-0 win in 1958 was the only previous meeting - so we're kind of running out of silly Purdue-Nebraska trivia.)
Aaaaaaand ... that's about it. The Boilers still haven't beaten a team that finished with a winning record since 2011. (Western Michigan and Illinois. Oddly enough, WMU could be above .500 again this season, although Massey does predict they'll lose to rival Central Michigan.) Hi, Nebraska! The Husker offense is 12th in % available yards and 11th in explosive drives. Given that Purdue's defense made the Chippewas look like Nebraska, they might make Nebraska look like 1982 Nebraska. (Spoiler: this would be bad.) And Nebraska's defense might actually be better than their offense. Even their special teams are good. Well, their FG kicking, not so much - Drew Brown is just 6/10 from 30+ (rumor has it that the Lions are looking to draft him in 2015) - but the highlight of their special teams is their return teams. Ameer Abdullah is averaging 27.4 yards per kickoff return, and De'Mornay Pierson-El is averaging 15.2 yards per punt return, more than 100 PR yards ahead of the second-place returner in I-A football, and he's got 2 TDs to boot.
Fortunately, Purdue's special teams aren't that bad, except ... nuts. Kick coverage. Purdue's 54th in punt efficiency and 102nd in kickoff efficiency. So. As long as the Good Guys don't kick to those returners ... uh ... anyway, at least Purdue likely won't have a second-half lead for Hazell and Shoop to sit on. (That may be a recurring theme for the rest of November.)
The win over Illinois represented progress to everyone, but the last couple of games have been what might be moral victories, tolerable to some and not appealing to others. Saturday will be no different. If you want progress in the W column, come back when we talk about the Northwestern game. Maybe.
Repeat of last year, 10/12/2013:
Purdue 7 Nebraska 44
Ameer Abdullah is really good. Really, really, really good. Like, “if he made a delicious pastrami sandwich while stiff-arming a scrubnobody would flinch”-type good. With a better showing (and possible victory) against Michigan State in early October, Super Ameer would be the clear non-QB Heisman frontrunner. Other candidates include Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon (oh fuuuuu we play him next week) and the suspended Todd Gurley, and Abdullah has been as stellar as the pair (and significantly more eligible than Gurley). We’re talking to the tune of 1250 yards on 180 attempts, 17 rushing touchdowns (plus 2 receiving touchdowns), and four 200 yard games. Oh god.
Just as a reminder…this Purdue defense let Minnesota’s David Cobb, a very good but clearly lower-caliber running back, run for 194 yards two weeks ago. We’re last in the conference by virtually every defensive metric available, and a clock-chewing option like Abdullah doesn’t even give Austin “Brees Jr” Appleby a fair shot to get Purdue’s offense going. These words don’t seem to bode well for this weekend.
Excuse me while I change my drawers. #fearameer
Listen, we’ve seen a lot of progress this year. The transition to Appleby has injected some life into John Shoop’s suddenly-dangerous offense, Akeem Hunt has grown into a good #1 running back, Raheem Mostert remains a permanent home-run threat, and Coach Hazell got his first Big Ten win. That’s great, and we should be happy and optimistic about the future. Wahoooo.
But the present? Well…Appleby still has too many freshman-like moments, Purdue let a sure-fire win slip away against Minnesota, and Sean Robinson’s injury has left a clear void in an already-lackluster defense. So…there’s that. Reality sucks sometimes.
While it would be great to predict a game that goes down to the wire after Purdue gets an extra week to prepare, I just can’t see Purdue pushing this 15th ranked Cornhusker team too far. I’m not even sure it will be the kind of loss the Boilers can learn anything from. Unfortunately, I think it’ll be a “burn the tape and move on” type of Saturday, with a late Appleby touchdown against a bored secondary that makes the blowout look not-as-nauseating.
Make sure to stock up on the Pepto and the whiskey, because it’s gonna be a loooong afternoon.
Spread: Nebraska -23.5
Purdue 21 Nebraska 51
Mike Henry (RRT):
A week off has undoubtedly done this team some good. It's been an interesting season to say the least, and having some time to rest and regroup will only benefit this team that is hampered both by inexperience and injury. And while it would be nice to come off a bye week and play a team more on Purdue's level, as fate would have it, the Boilers instead have to face a team whose strengths match up pretty perfectly to Purdue's weaknesses. So it goes.
Nebraska's lone loss this season came at the hands of Michigan State, a team Purdue played tough before it became clear that they didn't have enough to get over that hump. Despite the loss, that game provided enough encouragement to make people think that the Boilermakers are trending up. Nebraska's loss to Michigan State was much more significant to their program. The Cornhuskers came into the season thinking they had a chance at making the new College Football Playoffs. Although they are still on the fringes of the conversation (ranked #15 in the first release of the polls that will determine the top 4 teams that will make it), they have an outside chance at best.
Purdue and Nebraska share another common opponent in Illinois. Purdue won that game by 11; the Huskers won by 31 (and it could have been higher, as Nebraska seemed to let off the gas after a 24 point 2nd quarter). Nebraska rushed for a I'm-not-making-this-up 458 yards in that game. To put that in perspective, Purdue has only had more total yards in one game, the aforementioned Illinois matchup.
Which illustrates the most obvious concern heading into this game - Nebraska's running attack. Minnesota was able to wear Purdue down by running the ball, and that's ultimately what won them the game. As good as Minnesota is rushing the ball, Nebraska is better. They are led by SR running back Ameer Abdullah. Check out his stats on the year: 180 rushing attempts for 1,249 yards (nearly seven yards per carry) and 17 touchdowns. To put that in perspective, that's almost double the number of yards as Purdue's #1 rusher Akeem Hunt (with 640 total rushing yards) and 12 more touchdowns. Backing him up is Tommy Armstrong Jr, who has 501 yards on the season.
That would be a scary matchup for any team, but Purdue should be especially concerned, given how this team has struggled against the run. Some of that is inexperience (asking a freshman to be the leader of the defense as a middle linebacker is tough), some of that is talent, and some of that is injuries. But the biggest problem, which sort of falls out of the previous three factors, is depth. I don't have stats on the number of snaps each player takes, but I do know that Purdue's front seven is perilously thin, especially at the linebacker position. There are some talented players along the front seven, guys who can make some plays, but it's tough to play the whole game, and the way coaches manage that is by subbing players out and relying on the drop-off to not be so dramatic while their starters take a breather. Purdue does not have that luxury, and as such, often wind up in a position where guys are absolutely gassed by the end of the game.
The best way to take advantage of that is if you have a good running game and you pound the interior of that defense. Any drive that extends for a long period of time where the rusher is able to get 5+ yards a carry is both disheartening and tiring. And if your offense can't sustain large drives, then you're really in for a world of hurt. Nebraska can run the ball well against even a fresh defense; once that defense gets tired they may be unstoppable.
Purdue has surprised me often this season, and that is the only thing that really gives me pause. But I think Nebraska is just too tough for this team, and sadly, I don't think it'll be close.
Nebraska 45 Purdue 17
Some things simply aren't about logic.
Why would a man dare to reach toward space? Why would my wife choose to marry me?
We dream...we feel...we are.
And so it is with this week's predicto. My gut has been telling me that our Boilers will be the Cornhuskers...and I have no idea why.
I'm aware that Purdue is playing a team with a Heisman candidate running back, a future NFL receiver and an offensive line that makes their machine go.
Sure, the blackshirts are that in name and reputation only...But Hudson/Hazell's defense makes Pelini's defense look like Osborne's.
I love Akeem Hunt's emergence as a back that can finish plays after contact, Mostert's ability to give DCs a bit of angst each time he enters the game, Anthrop's sudden ability to put up 100 yard games with regularity and Appleby's exuberance and belief that he can make any throw.
I don't like that Yancey has disappeared and Purdue doesn't seem to have a good second option at receiver. I don't like that Green hasn't been getting many carries...and I don't think that Sinz should ever leave the field unless he's passed out or not in uniform.
I also don't like Purdue's inability to stop the run...or the pass.
But still, I dare to throw all logic out of the window for this week's predicto...I dare to look like a complete fool...I dare to dream.
(A fast start is the key...and Appleby cleaning up stupid mistakes late clinches it.)
Purdue 37 Nebraska 33