A thesis could be written about why the Nebraska Cornhuskers finds themselves winless in September, but the Huskers have no time to do that research as they must focus on the 2018 edition of the Purdue Boilermakers. The last time a Nebraska football season started out 0-3, America had just finished its work in the second World War. Unfortunately, the Huskers don’t have a draft to blame for its lack of production this time around.
Purdue comes off a 30-13 win over then-No. 23 Boston College. That contest was a banner day by quarterback David Blough, who went 21-for-28 passing for 296 yards and three touchdowns. No doubt the Boilermakers are itching to pay Nebraska back for being one of the Huskers’ four wins last year via a 25-24 comeback in West Lafayette.
The two teams have met six times with Nebraska holding a 4-2 edge in the series including a two-game winning streak during which victory has been decided by a combined 14 points. The Boilermakers’ Jeff Brohm is having a rougher go of things this year at 1-3 after leading his team to a 7-6 season including a win over Arizona in the 2017 Foster Farms bowl.
After snapping a three-game losing skid, Purdue is looking to turn their fortunes around just as much as the Huskers are.
Purdue at Nebraska
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 29 at 3:30 p.m. ET
TV: Channel: BTN
Spread: Purdue -3.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Nebraska when facing adversity
Mike Tyson’s words of wisdom continue to ring true as no doubt Nebraska’s staff has what it feels is a solid game plan every week. Unfortunately, as the season has gone on, despite any strategy the Huskers may have, it seems to go out the window once the opponent lands a punch to the Big Red’s jaw.
At this point, the Huskers don’t need a perfect game. They need to play a competent one. With one of the nation’s worst turnover margins at minus-six, they must cut down on poor ball handling as tip drills have ended up in opponents' favor.
When the going gets tough, the Huskers must figure out how to stop laying down to die.
2. Purdue’s Rondale Moore
Despite a losing effort against Northwestern, the college football world was introduced to an immediate impact player in Moore. Already a school record-holder, the multiple-time 2018 Big Ten Player of the Week presents a major problem for the Nebraska defense.
In four games, Moore has tallied 372 yards on 33 receptions (11.27 yards per catch/93 yards per game) and has eclipsed the 100-yard mark in three of those games. Those performances have come against the nation’s 57th-, 95th- and 116th-best pass defenses while Nebraska currently sits at 75th.
Considering how much the Huskers struggled against Colorado’s elite Laviska Shenault Jr., look for Brohm to get Moore involved early and often.
3. Nebraska’s special teams
This has been perhaps the most putrid area of the Huskers’ team thus far, from their own return game to defending their opponents’. Easily one of the worst-performing units in FBS thus far, the Big Red has allowed eight punt returns of 20-plus yards, including 58-yard and 60-yard returns for a touchdowns by Troy’s Cedarius Rookard and Michigan’s Donovan Peoples-Jones, respectively.
On their own returns, Nebraska averages 19 yards per kickoff (88th nationally) and 0.2 per punt (125th.) Punter Caleb Lightbourn is the lone constant bright spot with a current career-best 43 yard per punt average. However, he’s being asked to use his leg more than ever.
More than anything, the Huskers need to shift players around or they’ll be the victim of even more easy touchdowns that will continue to put them in deeper holes even more quickly.
In theory, the Huskers have everything necessary to get Scott Frost his first win at Nebraska. There’s no second guessing whether or not Adrian Martinez will be good to go, the team is about as healthy as it's going to be across the board, and this game is in the friendly confines of Memorial Stadium.
However, the Boilermakers need only stick to their bread and butter as Nebraska is still behind the eight ball mentally. If the Purdue defense can force turnovers and be the fourth team to start a game with a double-digit lead before the Big Red gets on the scoreboard, Frost likely goes 0-for-September.
That said, if Nebraska can get proper blocking from its offensive line and special teams units, we may see the best performance from a Frost-led Husker team yet. It’s crucial for the Big Red to get the first touchdown of the game to set the tone as quickly as possible. Anything less and they’ll be fighting two teams: Purdue and themselves.
Considering recent play, things likely won't change too much as the Boilermakers know they can win using their familiar system while Nebraska is still searching for so many answers.
Prediction: Purdue 34, Nebraska 20
— Written by Brandon Cavanaugh, FWAA member and part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Be sure to follow him on Twitter (@eightlaces) plus keep up with the Quick N Dirty podcasts and stat-filled features on his Patreon page.