Two Big Ten teams looking to get to .500 in conference play will face off for the first time ever as Rutgers hosts Purdue on Saturday. The Scarlet Knights (2-4, 1-2 Big Ten) are coming off of a solid 35-24 road win at Illinois, while the Boilermakers (3-3, 1-2) fell at Wisconsin 17-9.
When Purdue hired head coach Jeff Brohm away from Western Kentucky, the hope was that he would put his stamp on the offense. Well improvement has come slowly, especially in Big Ten games where the Boilermakers are averaging just 16.7 points per game over their first three conference contests.
For Rutgers, the Scarlet Knights have already matched their win total from head coach Chris Ash’s first season and snapped their 16-game losing streak in the Big Ten with last week’s win over the Illini.
This also marks the first time these schools will play each other, which is remarkable considering the history between them. Rutgers’ first season of football dates all the way back to 1869, while Purdue’s history goes back to 1887.
Purdue at Rutgers
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 21 at noon ET
TV Channel: BTN
Spread: Purdue -9.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Purdue’s QB rotation
David Blough and Elijah Sindelar have shared the quarterback duties through the first six games. Each has made three starts, attempted roughly the same number of passes, and up until last week’s game, had gotten the same amount of playing time. In last week’s loss at Wisconsin, Sindelar, a sophomore, got the majority of the snaps as Blough, a junior, came in during the second quarter but was sacked twice in three plays and didn’t return.
Whoever is under center, he needs to improve on production that has lacked against Big Ten competition. In three conference games, the two signal callers have combined to complete 53 percent of their passes for 597 yards (199 ypg) and just as many touchdowns as interceptions (three each). The good news is that Rutgers’ pass defense ranks near the bottom of the conference, although it’s still allowing a respectable 219.7 yards per game through the air. The Scarlet Knights have surrendered eight touchdown passes in three conference games, half of that damage done by Ohio State.
2. Run Rutgers run
In last week’s 35-24 win at Illinois, the Scarlet Knights piled up 274 yards on 47 carries (5.8 ypc) and scored five touchdowns on the ground. Miami graduate transfer Gus Edwards led the way (91 yards, 2 TDs), as he was one of five on the team with at least five carries. Considering Rutgers’ passing offense ranks near the bottom of FBS teams (141.3 ypg, 4 TDs, 8 INTs), Edwards and company need to continue to churn out those yards.
Purdue surrendered 295 rushing yards to Wisconsin last week, 219 of those to freshman Jonathan Taylor, the Big Ten leader who also is currently third in the nation (164.3 ypg). For as many yards as the Boilermakers gave up, they did a good job limiting the damage as the Badgers managed just 17 points. It also should be noted that the defense was without linebacker T.J. McCollum, the unit’s anchor and leading tackler through the first five games.
No is one mistaking Rutgers for Wisconsin, but the Scarlet Knights need to follow the Badgers’ blueprint if they want to have any success on offense. Will Purdue’s defense be up to the task one week after getting run over?
3. Not-so special teams
When it comes to the third phase, Purdue and Rutgers boast solid punters, but the rest of their special teams units leave plenty to be desired. The Boilermakers rank 97th and 109th in punt and kickoff returns, respectively. The Scarlet Knights have fared better on punts (32nd) but rank near the bottom on kickoffs (128th). Each team’s coverage units have had their issues as well, highlighted by Dante Pettis’ 61-yard punt return for a touchdown for Washington in its season-opening 30-14 win over Rutgers.
The kickers haven’t been immune to these struggles either. Alex Harte has had just six field goal attempts for the Scarlet Knights, but he’s missed two of those and his long for the season is 39 yards. For Purdue, sophomore J.D. Dellinger and junior Spencer Evans have shared the placekicking duties. The duo has combined to connect on just eight of 13 field goal attempts, including two-for-seven from 40 yards and beyond.
With both offenses struggling with consistency and the defenses showing the ability, at times, to make things difficult for their opponent, this game could come down to special teams. While this area hasn’t been a strength for either team to this point, it takes only one big return or a successful kick under pressure to change that, especially if said play helps secure a win.
Records aside, Saturday’s game at High Point Solutions Stadium is historic in that it’s the first-ever meeting between two schools that have been playing football for well over a century. But in the present, this game also is vital to Purdue and Rutgers when it comes to their hopes of becoming bowl eligible this season.
Even though the Boilermakers’ offense isn’t humming like many expected in head coach Jeff Brohm’s first season, this is a team that has already made significant improvement on defense. The Scarlet Knights have likewise taken steps forward in head coach Chris Ash’s second season, but they still have a long way to go.
Brohm’s defense continues its strong play on the road (10 ppg) and the offense figures out a few things too as Purdue comes to Piscataway, New Jersey, and leaves victorious in its first-ever game against Rutgers.