Five Keys To Beating Purdue On Saturday
The Purdue Boilermakers (1-8, 0-5) are coming to town on Saturday to take on Penn State (5-4, 2-3) at 12 p.m. The teams last played in 2012, with Matt McGloin burning the Boilermakers for 321 yards and two touchdowns in a 34-9 blowout win. Saturday’s game has the potential for a similar result, but only if the Nittany Lions follow these five keys to the game:
1. Just play average football.
Seriously. It’s as simple as that. Purdue is 1-8 and on a seven-game losing streak for a reason. The Boilermakers rank below the top 100 nationally in every major statistical category except passing yards where they come in at 97th. They don’t have a good defense. They have a horrific offense. As long as the Nittany Lions don’t play their worst game of the season against their worst opponent of the season, this should be an easy win. Penn State can’t afford to play Purdue like it did against Illinois.
2. Good play-calling and disciplined football.
This sounds pretty obvious. In order to win a football game, you need to make good plays calls on both sides of the ball and you need to avoid costly mistakes by staying disciplined. Unfortunately for Penn State, that hasn’t been the case for a lot of this season.
Bill O’Brien’s offensive play-calling has lost the element of surprise that it had last season. Everyone sees the fourth down attempts coming. Everyone knows that when the offense is in the red zone there’s going to be at least one fade thrown to Allen Robinson. He has called runs in situations that looked like must-pass downs and vice versa. Of course, hindsight is 20/20, but the play calls and decision-making certainly need to improve this Saturday.
On defense, it’s hard to tell if the problem is a lack of talent, bad play-calling by John Butler, his scheme simply failing to work when executed in a game, or undisciplined play across the board from the secondary to the front seven. It’s probably a combination of all of those things, but the last issue is the one that is most obvious when watching the team. Missed tackles, blown coverages, and out-of-place defenders are just a few of the problems plaguing the defense. Penn State would probably be able to get away with that to an extent against Purdue, but it isn’t worth finding out.
3. Coming out strong early on offense.
The Nittany Lions are 2-4 when the opponent scores first as opposed to 3-0 when scoring first. That’s an issue and its had tangible negative results for the team. Penn State has tried to play the comeback game too many times this season, trailing at halftime in four games and at the end of the third quarter in four games. The Nittany Lions lost all of those games.
Against a team like Purdue that has a defense that bleeds points, the Nittany Lions need to take advantage of the weak unit and get on the board early and often. It also seems that there is only one sensible way to do it…
4. …by running the football.
The Boilermakers allow 223.6 rushing yards per game compared to 214.9 through the air. That’s an outstanding amount of ground to give up to opposing run games. The Nittany Lions don’t have a lot of things going for them right now, but Zach Zwinak and Bill Belton are on that short list. In fact, Akeel Lynch might be able to return from an MCL sprain this Saturday and provide a spark off the bench late in the game with some fresh legs.
Belton is still listed as the No. 1 running back on the depth chart despite sitting on the bench most of the game against Minnesota after a fumble on the first play of offense. Even so, I would expect to see a fairly even distribution of carries between Belton and Zwinak unless one catches fire early, allowing O’Brien to ride the hot hand.
Chances are, whoever takes the field first will be able to do some damage against a weak Purdue defensive line and front seven. O’Brien needs to establish the run and pound the ball all game long, controlling the clock and tiring the Boilermakers’ defense along the way.
5. Control the football.
Turnovers have been a theme for the football team this season. Through nine games, Penn State has turned the ball over 16 times with at least one in each game and multiple turnovers in five games. Purdue has 12 takeaways through nine games and surprisingly, despite having a poor defense, has at least one takeaway in all but one game.
The Nittany Lions have gotten into trouble with turnovers in recent weeks. Two goal-line fumbles come to mind, one by Belton against Illinois that nearly cost Penn State the game, and another by Christian Hackenberg against Minnesota that ended any hopes of a comeback victory. If the Nittany Lions can hold onto the football and play a turnover-free game, this will be an easy win on Saturday.