James Franklin and Penn State scored a much-needed signature victory Saturday night in front of a White Out crowd against Ohio State, and now the Nittany Lions are back in the AP Top 25 for the first time since 2011. It’s been a long time coming for the program, but now the focus is on avoiding a letdown this week on the road against Purdue.
Sometimes it can be good to go on the road a week after a big win, but this is all brand new to this Penn State program. How the team handles it will be key. Meanwhile, Purdue still has an outside chance to reach a postseason bowl game against all odds. In order to do that, the Boilermakers may have to pull the upset on the Nittany Lions in West Lafayette.
Penn State at Purdue
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 29 at 12 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ABC/ESPN2
Spread: Penn State -11.0
Three Things to Watch
1. Can Penn State avoid a hangover game?
It is perfectly natural and sometimes routine in college football to see a team experience a thrilling win in a big game one week and then come out flat the following week. After a wild home win against Ohio State last Saturday night, Penn State travels to a much different environment this week to take on a Purdue program that has already made a coaching change and is probably just looking to play out the rest of the season. This will be a new challenge for this Penn State team, because these Nittany Lions are now ranked for the first time any player on the roster has been a part of the program and must deal with managing heightened expectations. Purdue can be tricky (just ask Iowa and Nebraska), so James Franklin’s team will have to be sharp in order to avoid any letdown on the road this week.
2. Penn State has scored just one offensive touchdown off a turnover in 2016
Penn State has turned the football over more than it has taken it away from the other team, giving the Nittany Lions a negative turnover margin (-3) entering the week. On the handful of extra possessions they have gained, however, they have scored just one touchdown on offense. Should this be a cause for alarm, or is this simply a trend that will even out as the season comes down the final stretch? Penn State should gain some opportunities this weekend, as Purdue has a Big Ten-worst minus-8 turnover margin.
3. Purdue leaves too many points on the field (but so does Penn State!)
The Boilermakers are also struggling to finish off drives that reach the red zone. Purdue has cracked the opponent’s 20-yard line 23 times this fall, and just 15 of those drives have led to points. That comes out to a Big Ten-low red zone scoring percentage of 65.22 percent (every other Big Ten team is above 70 percent). Purdue is scoring touchdowns on fewer than half of its red zone trips, with 11 touchdowns in those 23 visits. Of course, Penn State’s red zone touchdown percentage is nothing to write home about either, at just 48.28 percent (Penn State has a red zone scoring percentage of 82.76 though). Will we see a game of epic red zone struggles this week?
Penn State’s offense may not have been pretty last Saturday night against a stingy Ohio State defense, but this week could prove to be a different story. The Boilermakers have the 13th-ranked defense in the Big Ten, which should be good news for Saquon Barkley, Trace McSorley and a talented crop of wide receivers this weekend. If the Nittany Lions can attack with their defensive line and players like Jason Cabinda and Garrett Sickels have an impact as they did with the Buckeyes, Purdue could be in for a long afternoon. But this could very well be a bit of a sloppy game. Penn State still has the advantage here, and should come home with a win, even if it is ugly.
Prediction: Penn State 28, Purdue 17
— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. McGuire also contributes to College Football Talk and The Comeback as well as hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB and Like him on Facebook.