Big Ten play opened up in two very different ways for Penn State and Purdue last week. The Nittany Lions scored a lopsided victory on the road against Maryland on Friday night, and Purdue came up short of a home win against Minnesota to drop its conference opener. This week, the Boilermakers look to pull a big upset on the road against Penn State, and they'll have to do it without two big pieces on offense. Against a defense playing the way Penn State's is, that will be no easy task on the road in Happy Valley before a homecoming crowd this weekend.
Penn State has won the last eight meetings in the series. The last time Purdue scored a win in the series, and in Beaver Stadium, was in 2004 with Kyle Orton at quarterback. Penn State has owned a significant advantage in the series with Purdue, having lost only twice since joining the Big Ten. With James Franklin's program a big favorite this weekend, that is a trend that should continue for another year.
Purdue at Penn State
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 5 at 12:00 p.m. ET
Spread: Penn State -28
When Purdue Has the Ball
Purdue's offense will be undermanned this week, and maybe for an extended period. Starting quarterback Elijah Sindelar has been lost for the season with a broken clavicle. As if losing your starting quarterback was not tough enough, the Boilermakers will also be without one of the best young wide receivers in the game. Rondale Moore is out this week with a hamstring injury. It is unknown when he will be able to return to the field, but head coach Jeff Brohm has said that Moore will not play this weekend. That leaves Purdue's passing game in a tough spot against a defense that has been playing well.
Jack Plummer takes over at quarterback for Purdue. Plummer has appeared in two games this season and has been picked off four times with three touchdowns. Penn State will bring constant pressure on the young quarterback, who will be playing in one of the biggest stadiums in the country. Defensive end Micah Parsons will be energized to get back on the field after his early exit from last week's game at Maryland for a targeting penalty. And Yetur Gross-Matos will be tough to slow down on the defensive line. Gross-Matos leads the team with 3.5 sacks. With Purdue's offense already having its hiccups this season and now without two of its best weapons, it could be tough sledding this weekend.
When Penn State Has the Ball
Penn State starting quarterback Sean Clifford is coming off the best game of his young career for the Nittany Lions. Clifford passed for 398 yards and three touchdowns against Maryland, and he added 54 rushing yards and a touchdown. The sophomore completed 83.9 percent of his pass attempts against the Terrapins. He'll look to keep things going against Purdue, which comes into the week ranked last in the Big Ten against the pass. Purdue has given up 10 passing touchdowns with just two interceptions, and opposing quarterbacks have a combined passer rating of 149.73. For comparison, Maryland is 13th in the Big Ten, allowing an opposing QB rating of 146.48 (Clifford had a lot to do with that). In other words, it could be another big day for the Penn State passing game.
But running the ball remains a strength for Penn State. This season has seen Penn State spread the ball around on the ground with great results. No running back has reached 200 rushing yards for the season yet, although Journey Brown (196 yards) and Devyn Ford (160 yards) have a chance to go past that mark this week, and five different running backs have scored at least one touchdown this season (Noah Cain leads the team with four rushing touchdowns). Ricky Slade was expected to follow Miles Sanders as the featured back, but that has not been the case just yet. Regardless, the Penn State running game appears to be in good hands whoever is carrying the football.
Penn State is a big favorite in this game, and it is easy to see why. Purdue has gotten off to a rough start at 1-3, and the Boilermakers make a tough trip to Beaver Stadium to face a team playing some of the best defense in the conference. Penn State is also coming off a laugher at Maryland and has shown the ability to overcome its own slow starts with strong second-half showings. Even if Purdue can keep things within reach going to halftime, as Buffalo and Pitt did, there may not be much to slow Penn State after halftime. The absence of Purdue's best playmaker will make it all that much more difficult to crack the Penn State defense. In the end, Penn State appears set to go to 2-0 in Big Ten without really being tested by its first two conference foes.
Prediction: Penn State 42, Purdue 17
— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. McGuire also contributes to College Football Talk and hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Patreon, on Twitter @KevinOnCFB and Like him on Facebook.