Don't look now, but Nebraska has a golden opportunity to take sole possession of first place in the Big Ten West this weekend. The Cornhuskers have quickly jumped right back into the mix in the division, which is appearing to be as wide open as it has been in a number of years, since making a change at head coach. But in order to take over the top spot in the division, they must first win a road game at Purdue this weekend. The Boilermakers are also in a position to take over first place all to themselves, making this a pivotal Big Ten West matchup on the Week 7 schedule.
Nebraska and Purdue are each 2-1 in Big Ten play, with Nebraska's only loss coming in Week 0 against Northwestern in Ireland and Purdue's only conference loss also coming in its season opener against Penn State. Illinois also is 2-1 and faces Minnesota this weekend, so the winner of this game would need a little help from the Gophers to take over sole possession of first in the division.
Here is what you need to know about this weekend's showdown between the Huskers and Boilermakers.
Nebraska at Purdue
When Nebraska Has the Ball
Nebraska's offense is coming off a rough outing on the road last week at Rutgers, but this side of the ball has been pretty successful at putting points on the scoreboard this season. With the exception of last week at Rutgers and a demoralizing and program-changing loss at home to Oklahoma, Nebraska has scored at least 28 points in each game this season.
Anthony Grant is among the top running backs in the Big Ten, quarterback Casey Thompson has put up some big numbers with his arm, and Trey Palmer is among the top receivers in the conference so far this season. This gives offensive coordinator Mark Whipple multiple options to attack a Purdue defense that ranks in the middle of the Big Ten in the four major categories. The Boilermakers may not be shutting teams down completely, but they are giving up a respectable 22 points per game and 5.1 yards per play. They also have recorded eight interceptions in six games, so Thompson needs to make prudent decisions when he decides to air it out.
When Purdue Has the Ball
Purdue is ready to go on the attack with an aerial assault. Aidan O'Connell is one of the Big Ten's leading passers with 1,559 yards and 10 touchdowns this season. Iowa transfer Charlie Jones has become one of the top receivers in the Big Ten, following in the footsteps of David Bell and Rondale Moore quite nicely for head coach Jeff Brohm.
Purdue has one of the most efficient red-zone offenses in the Big Ten, putting points on the board 96 percent of the time they get the ball inside the 20. The Boilermakers also have the third-best red-zone touchdown rate (84 percent) in the Big Ten, trailing only Ohio State and Maryland. Nebraska's defense ranks at the bottom of the Big Ten coming into the weekend, so expect some good results from Purdue's offense.
Unless Nebraska dramatically improves its ability to stop opposing offenses, this one could turn pretty ugly in a hurry for the Cornhuskers. Purdue's offense is far too efficient for Nebraska to get caught up in a shootout because the defense cannot be relied on to make a needed stop. Expect plenty of offense, with the Boilermakers producing a few more big plays in their favor.
Prediction: Purdue 34, Nebraska 27
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