Who's ready for some post-Thanksgiving college football? It's that time of year where the regular season is winding down and the contenders are separating themselves from the pretenders. One of the games on this week's schedule is a matchup between two Big Ten teams aching for a victory. The Purdue Boilermakers (2-2) will host the Rutgers Scarlet Knights (1-4) in a must-win game. Both programs head into this week with losing streaks and hopes of making a bowl game.
Purdue has lost two straight, unable to complete comeback attempts against Northwestern and Minnesota. The loss to the Golden Gophers especially stung because of a controversial offensive pass interference call. Rutgers is on a four-game losing streak which has seen them fall to Indiana, Ohio State, Illinois, and Michigan by a combined score of 157-110. Purdue needs a win to keep its postseason hopes alive, while Rutgers needs a win to try and salvage its season.
Rutgers at Purdue
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 28 at 4 p.m. ET
Spread: Purdue -11.5
When Rutgers Has the Ball
Quarterback Noah Vedral posted career highs in pass completions (29), passing yards (381), and touchdown passes (3) in last week's triple-overtime loss to Michigan. He's third in the Big Ten in passing yards (1,104), second in completions (111), sixth in completion rate (64.2 percent), and tied for fourth in touchdown passes (8). Vedral has been effective this season despite the Scarlet Knights' struggles, and he's even the team's third-leading rusher (88 yards, TD).
Speaking of rushing, the Knights continue to get production from Isaih Pacheco (4.7 ypc) and Kay'Ron Adams (6.2). Those two backs plus Aaron Young have totaled 481 rushing yards with three touchdowns. Vedral's favorite targets in the passing attack are receivers Bo Melton (27 rec., 443 yds., 16.4 ypc, 5 TDs) and Shameen Jones (19, 219, 11.5, TD). The 42 points they scored against Michigan marked the second time that Rutgers has scored over 30 points this season (scored 38 in their season opener at Michigan State), and it was their first 40-point game since putting up 44 against Liberty last season.
The Scarlet Knights will be lining up against a Boilermaker defense that gives up 404.5 yards and 26.3 points per game. On top of that, Purdue will be without defensive end George Karlaftis (2 sacks), who tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this week.
When Purdue Has the Ball
Jack Plummer got the start in place of the injured Aidan O'Connell at Minnesota last week. He completed an outstanding 83.3 percent of his pass attempts for 367 yards and three touchdowns. Plummer also averaged 8.7 yards per attempt and finished with a 175.5 passer rating. He put together a solid effort, but there hasn't been a decision on which signal-caller will start this week. O'Connell is among the Big Ten's top 10 in passing yards (916), completion rate (64.7 percent), yards per attempt (6.7), and passer rating (135.3).
Whoever starts under center is certainly glad that wide receiver Rondale Moore is back in the lineup. He made his season debut in Minneapolis, where he was Purdue's leading receiver after catching 15 passes for 116 yards while averaging 7.7 yards per catch. He also scored a rushing touchdown. The Boilermakers are a much better team with Moore on the field because of playmaking abilities. David Bell has also been a major downfield weapon (39 rec., 425 yds., 6 TDs).
Complimenting Moore and Bell out of the backfield is the bruising, 230-pound running back Zander Horvath, who helps bring balance to this Boilermaker offense as the Big Ten's ninth-leading rusher (320 yards). Purdue will have a chance to take advantage of a Rutgers defense that has surrendered 434.2 yards and 36.8 points per game.
Rutgers won the only meeting between these teams back in 2017, but the Scarlet Knights have still struggled as a member of the Big Ten. They've posted an 8-48 conference record since 2014. During that same stretch, Purdue has gone 4-12 against the Big Ten East. But this year, the Boilermakers are the better team on both sides of the ball. Purdue takes the win at home.
Prediction: Purdue 24, Rutgers 17
Podcast: Week 13 Preview and Predictions + Interview with Kirk Herbstreit
— Gabe Salgado is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He can also be heard on WGN Radio. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.