A pivotal game in the Big Ten West comes live from West Lafayette this weekend as the Nebraska Cornhuskers fight for bowl eligibility against the Purdue Boilermakers. The Cornhuskers (4-4, 2-3) need two more wins to secure a postseason invitation while the Boilermakers (2-6, 1-4) must win out to go bowling.
This matchup had the potential for fireworks when the season began. But since then, much of the gunpowder has been doused by disappointment. Injuries mount and game-changers have either been sidelined or dismissed. However, this game could still feature a big-time matchup of receivers in Rondale Moore versus surging Wan'Dale Robinson, but Moore's participation is a game-time decision.
The series kicked off in 1958 with Purdue notching a 28-0 win over the Bill Jennings-led Cornhuskers. It's been a spirited back-and-forth with Nebraska holding a 4-3 edge despite the Boilermakers knocking off the Big Red 42-28 last year in Lincoln.
Scott Frost and Jeff Brohm certainly weren't expecting to be fighting for their program's pride above all this late in the game. Regardless, plenty is still on the line for these programs as we enter November.
Nebraska at Purdue
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 2 at 12 p.m. ET
Spread: Nebraska -3
When Nebraska Has the Ball
Adrian Martinez says he’s ready to go, but we won’t truly know whether he’ll be taking snaps away from Noah Vedral until we actually see him take the field. Vedral had a solid outing against Indiana, passing 14-of-16 for 206 yards. He also contributed seven carries for 21 yards and two scores on the ground, as he worked the Nebraska offense into a rhythm.
Wan'Dale Robinson rebounded in speculator fashion from an injury that looked like it could keep him on the shelf for a few weeks. Instead, the true freshman from Kentucky managed 154 yards from scrimmage and a rushing touchdown for his efforts. Nebraska got mixed results from its other skill position players though. Running back Dedrick Mills went surprisingly silent in the second half against the Hoosiers — he was held without a second-half carry after toting the rock eight times in the first — but receiver JD Spielman continues to be nails with 97 receiving yards.
Nebraska has to be wary of the Purdue front featuring defensive end George Karlaftis, who has been a pleasant surprise as a true freshman. Derrick Barnes works opposite him with Kai Higgins and Lawrence Johnson at the interior defensive tackle spots, while linebackers Jaylan Alexander, Ben Holt, and Jalen Graham help solidify the front seven. Kenneth Major and Dedrick Mackey are scheduled at cornerback with Navon Mosley and Brennan Thieneman as Purdue’s safeties.
When Purdue Has the Ball
Jack Plummer gets the call at quarterback with Elijah Sindelar still sidelined with an injury. He comes into the game 119-of-207 passing for 1,361 yards, nine touchdowns, and six interceptions on the year. In Sindelar's absence, running backs King Doerue and Zander Horvath are the biggest ground threats for the Boilermakers with 435 combined rushing yards and three touchdowns.
If Rondale Moore cannot play, David Bell may have to be to Purdue what Spielman is to Nebraska. He’s totaled 653 yards and four touchdowns in 2019. Brycen Hopkins gives Plummer an option at tight end who has logged 441 yards and three touchdowns in 2019.
Outside of injuries, the Blackshirts haven’t shown much in the way of shuffling the lineup. Khalil and Carlos Davis join Darrion Daniels up front. Mohamed Barry and Collin Miller flank them as interior linebackers with Will Honas switching in rotation.
Alex Davis, Caleb Tannor, and Garrett Nelson all saw significant time at the outside spots versus Indiana. Lamar Jackson and Dicaprio Bootle look to rebound from a game that saw them scorched by Hoosier wide receivers, while Marquel Dismuke, Cam Taylor-Britt, Braxton Clark, and Eric Lee Jr. complete the secondary.
The most dangerous thing Nebraska can do is give Purdue hope. The Boilermakers have 15 players either out for the season or questionable for Saturday. If Rondale Moore is unable to go, a fifth win couldn’t be teed up any better for the Huskers. All they have to do is play 60 minutes of relatively mistake-free football.
However, as Frost said following the Big Red’s loss to Indiana, his team keeps finding new and innovative ways to lose. That would be an impressive feat to pull off against a team that could only manage a late touchdown pass versus Illinois.
As much trouble as Nebraska has seen with turnovers (-4 margin), Purdue is actually twice as bad. Believe it or not, this appears to be a game where the Huskers can outclass their opponent en route to a victory. They can’t afford to take anything for granted, though. In fact, it might be a good idea to pad the score just in case things start unraveling unexpectedly.