One of the college football games with the highest over/unders of the weekend is an exciting cross-country matchup between the Oregon State Beavers and Purdue Boilermakers.
Oregon State head coach Jonathan Smith enters his fourth season leading the Beavers with his best shot at a bowl appearance with nine starters back on an offense that averaged 28.9 points per game in 2020. The issues for Oregon State during Smith’s tenure have been on defense, where they’ve ranked in the bottom half of the Pac-12 in each of the last three seasons and allowed north of 442 total yards per game in each year. Changes were made to the defensive staff in the hopes that Oregon State can reach bowl eligibility for the first time since 2013.
The Boilermakers find themselves in a similar spot under head coach Jeff Brohm, who enters his fifth year after back-to-back losing campaigns. Offense is his focus, being a former quarterback, and Purdue has had no such issues scoring points; the Boilermakers have averaged at least 390 yards of offense in every season under Brohm. Defensively, it’s been a struggle, and Brohm now has three co-coordinators trying to right the ship.
Expect some fireworks on Saturday night.
Oregon State at Purdue
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 4 at 7 p.m. ET
Spread: Purdue -7
When Oregon State Has the Ball
Nine starters are back on an offense that averaged 29 points per game last season, but question marks abound at quarterback and running back. Colorado transfer Sam Noyer gets the nod this week after joining the team in the summer, beating out Chance Nolan and Sam Vidlak for the gig. Noyer went 4-2 last season as the starter with the Buffaloes, earning second-team All-Pac-12 honors, but wound up losing the job, which led to his eventual transfer. The sixth-year senior completed just 55 percent of his throws last season with more interceptions than touchdowns but adds a running element that (208 yds., 5 TDs) that can give defenses some trouble.
Noyer’s running ability will be needed as Oregon State breaks in a new starting tailback this season following the departure of three-year starter Jermar Jefferson, who rushed for nearly 3,000 yards from 2018-20. B.J. Baylor and South Carolina transfer Deshaun Fenwick top the depth chart for now, but the situation remains fluid, since nobody established themselves as a potential workhorse during fall camp. And if the Boilermakers had a strength on defense last season, it was stopping the run; opponents averaged just 3.43 yards per carry.
The Beavers return 77 percent of their receiving production from a year ago and can go as many as nine deep at wide receiver with a plethora of potential contributors, led by breakout candidate Zeriah Beason, who tied for the team lead in touchdowns with three as a true freshman. Purdue finished 13th in the Big Ten against the pass last season, allowing 254 yards per game, and finished 118th nationally in defensive pass play total PPA (Predicted Points Added).
When Purdue Has the Ball
We know exactly what this offense intends to do both on Saturday night and for the entirety of the season — sling the pill. The Boilermakers have averaged the most passing attempts in the Big Ten in each of the last two years and will look to feature their best player on the roster in future first-team All-American David Bell. In just six games, Bell amassed 53 receptions and eight touchdowns and will no longer have to battle Rondale Moore for targets. Bell will be featured early and often on Saturday night while Purdue tries to figure out the complementary targets.
Junior Jack Plummer was anointed as the starting quarterback this past week after a tightly-contested battle with Aidan O’Connell. Plummer played in just three games last season, but completed an efficient 71 percent of his passes with eight touchdowns and just two interceptions on 312.7 passing yards per game. Oregon State’s secondary could provide a challenge after holding opponents to a 57 percent completion rate in 2020.
For the Boilermakers to reach their peak on offense in 2021, they'll have to find some semblance of balance on offense after ranking 124th nationally in rushing, averaging just 3.3 yards per carry. Returning starter Zander Horvath figures to pace the backfield, and most of the starting offensive line from a year ago returns. If Purdue can’t get things going on the ground against the 110th-ranked rush defense in 2020, that does not bode well moving forward.
This matchup is far from the main course of the entire Week 1 slate but will be one of significance for teams with bowl aspirations in 2021. Neither team plays much defense as past seasons have indicated, and both will be implementing new schemes that could take a few weeks to get sorted out. Purdue has the edge in star-power with the two best players on the field in Bell and defensive end George Karlaftis, and that will be the difference here along with the home-field advantage backing the Boilermakers.
Prediction: Purdue 38, Oregon State 31
Podcast: Week 1 Preview, Predictions & Spread Picks
— Written by Mike Bainbridge, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Bainbridge is a graduate of Northern Illinois University. Follow him on Twitter @MBainbridgeCFF.