Nebraska will host Purdue on Saturday in a tale of two seasons. Things could not have gone any better than they did for the Cornhuskers during the first half of the 2016 campaign. They've battled through injuries and won some tight games against some respectable teams. And they've done so with an extremely balanced offensive attack led by quarterback Tommy Armstrong.
Purdue is another story.
Already a perennial doormat in the Big Ten, the 2016 Boilermakers have managed to perform below even their own standards. Subsequently, a guy who many viewed as a rising star in the coaching ranks before arriving in West Lafayette was fired mid-season this past weekend. A trip to Lincoln is probably the last thing Purdue needs right now to help get back on track.
Purdue at Nebraska
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 22, 3:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ABC
Spread: Nebraska -24
Three Things to Watch
1. Purdue's Body Language Early
Sometimes, teams rally around the loss of a coach by giving the best performance they have in them. There are talented athletes throughout the Boilermaker roster, and they have the horses to make the Cornhuskers work. Additionally, this is pretty much the same Purdue team from a personnel standpoint that hung 55 points on Nebraska last year. You'd like to think that helps their confidence. If Purdue comes out with some high intensity and turn it into an early score or a three-and-out on defense, we might have us a football game. If not, we'll have a snoozer.
2. Nebraska's Defensive Line
This unit looks like it is coming into its own as of late. Purdue doesn't offer much in the way of slowing them down, so we could see a heavy rotation in the front four, getting guys valuable reps as Nebraska prepares for back-to-back trips to Madison and Columbus in the next two weeks. If the Cornhuskers' front gets after Purdue quarterback David Blough early and often, it will be a good sign that the unit is continuing to improve and should continue to do so throughout the year. Freedom Akinmoladun has star potential, but he hasn't been able to get it going off the edge this season. Keep an eye on him as someone who could end up having a big day. Any difficulty the Huskers have getting consistent penetration into the backfield will be a huge cause for concern moving forward.
3. Nebraska's Return Game
Common sense tells us that the Huskers are going to get plenty of chances to return punts on Saturday. They have yet to return a kickoff or a punt for a touchdown this season -- despite having an electric return man. Big plays on special teams win a lot of close games, and Nebraska would do well to use this game as a dress rehearsal in that department. So far in 2016, Nebraska has yet to show much on special teams that would concern any future opponents.
This game has no business being close. Purdue's best player is a running back who is struggling to find room to run this season. The Boilermakers have given up an average of more than 34 points per game to six teams that probably could not hang with Nebraska right now. In the meantime, Nebraska -- despite injuries -- has an embarrassment of riches in terms of offensive weapons, a quarterback having the best season of his career and a secondary with NFL-caliber athletes roaming around. It's a safe bet that the Huskers jump out early with some big plays through the air and pound it out on the ground late, while Purdue spends all afternoon playing catch-up and quarterback David Blough probably adds to his interception total, which currently sits at 10.
Prediction: Nebraska 45, Purdue 9
— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. His work has appeared on SI.com, FoxSports.com, Yahoo! and Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.