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Penn State Primed To Roll Over Purdue On Saturday

There are times when a football team’s record doesn’t tell the whole story, when it has lost a large number of games but there are circumstances like overtime losses or costly injuries or poor officiating that led to the poor record. That isn’t the case with the Purdue Boilermakers (1-8, 0-5). The Boilermakers are without a doubt the worst team that Penn State (5-4, 2-3) will have the pleasure of facing this season.

The numbers say it all for Purdue. The Boilermakers offense is putting up just 11.8 points per game while the defense is allowing 438.4 yards and 37.2 points. They are as bad on offense as they are on defense. I mentioned yesterday that Penn State’s number one key to winning the game was quite simply to “just play average football.” The difference in talent between Penn State and Purdue and between Purdue and the rest of the conference is enormous.

Simply put, Purdue doesn’t have any playmakers. Senior quarterback Rob Henry started the first five games of the season for the Boilermakers, throwing four touchdowns and six interceptions while winning just one game. True freshman Danny Etling stepped in to replace the struggling Henry and has similarly posted poor numbers, throwing four touchdowns and five picks while failing to win a game.

They don’t have a running game. Akeem Hunt leads the way with 93 carries but is averaging just 3.5 yards per rush and has yet to find the end zone on the ground this season. There isn’t a clear number one wide receiver on the team. Three players have at least 17 receptions. It isn’t always a bad thing to spread the ball around, but you need a trustworthy option and Purdue doesn’t have one, as the team averages just 191 passing yards per game.

None of those weaknesses really compare to the defense, or more specifically, the front seven. Purdue can’t stop the run. It doesn’t matter what team it’s playing against. Opponents average 223.6 rushing yards per game against the Boilermakers. Penn State averages 167 rushing yards per game. It would be a shock if the Nittany Lions don’t rack up a ton of yards on the ground. It might be Zach Zwinak. It might be Bill Belton. It will probably be both.

Purdue’s secondary is not as bad as the run defense, but it isn’t anything to write home about, either. The Boilermakers are giving up 214.9 pass yards per game, which is actually better than the Nittany Lions in that category. They have a solid cornerback in Ricardo Allen, who will more than likely cover Allen Robinson, so look for Christian Hackenberg to throw to Brandon Felder and the tight ends more often this week.

Penn State’s offense has a lot of potential, and in too many games this season that potential hasn’t been reached. Against Purdue though, the points will come and they will keep coming if Bill O’Brien can call plays to take advantage of the mismatches that the offense will be sure to see come game time.

With that, let’s take a look at some Purdue players worth keeping an eye on:

Danny Etling #5 — He wasn’t supposed to start this year, but Purdue was looking for a spark on offense and thrust Etling into the spotlight as the team’s starting quarterback in early October. Etling has looked decent at times, but his accuracy is very poor as he’s completing just under half of his passes. Penn State doesn’t have a great secondary, but Adrian Amos and Jordan Lucas should be able to handle Etling’s weapons — if you want to call them weapons — and shut down the Purdue pass game.

Ricardo Allen #21 — Purdue’s best defensive player is Allen, a senior cornerback who has four pick-sixes in his career, just one short of an NCAA record. Allen has three picks already this season and will do his best to slow down Robinson come game time.

Akeen Hunt #1 — This junior running back isn’t doing much as Purdue’s primary ball-carrier this season. He’s carried the ball 93 times but has just 325 yards. Hunt is solid as a pass-catcher, as he’s hauled in 33 balls for 313 yards and two scores this season. The shifty 5-9, 184-pound back can do damage as a kick returner too. He ran one back from the end zone against Ohio State last season and from 99 yards out against Indiana this year.

Raheem Mostert — While Hunt is a solid kick returner, his partner on special teams is Mostert. As a freshman in 2011, Mostert was the NCAA FBS leader in kick returns, as he averaged 33.5 yards with four yards of 71 yards or more.

With that, here are some things to watch for from the Nittany Lions:

The run game — With Zach Zwinak regaining primary ball-carrying duties last week against Minnesota and Bill Belton still atop the depth chart, there are questions about the running back position heading into tomorrow’s game. The real question might be just how many yards the running backs are going to collectively total against Purdue’s swiss cheese front seven.

Zwinak, Belton, and Akeel Lynch proved what they can do against a weak defensive line in the Kent State game, combining for 287 yards and three scores. Against Eastern Michigan, the unit ran for 251 yards and five touchdowns. Look for similar numbers in Saturday’s game.

The defense on third downs — Surprisingly, the Nittany Lions defense played fairly well last week against a solid Minnesota offense. The problem was that the unit failed time and time again to make plays on long third downs, allowing the Golden Gophers to keep drives alive and put points on the board. Purdue doesn’t have a good offense, but it looks like any half-decent quarterback can find an open receivers over the middle on third down against John Butler’s scheme. Let’s see if that changes against the Boilermakers or if we see more of the same.

It should be the Nittany Lions’ easiest game of the season, but nothing would surprise considering how inconsistent the team has been, especially knowing that it struggled against Illinois, another Big Ten bottom-feeder.

By the Numbers: In four major statistical categories — passing yards, rushing yards, points scored per game, and points against per game — the Boilermakers are 97th, 122nd, 123rd, and 112th respectively. This doesn’t bode well for them against any opponent.

Blast from the Past: The Nittany Lions are 12-3-1 against the Boilermakers. In the last meeting in 2012, Penn State defeated Purdue on the road 34-9. Matt McGloin threw for 321 yards and two touchdowns in the game. Felder led the way for the receivers, pulling in six catches for 129 yards and a score. Michael Zordich ran for two scores while Zwinak totaled 134 yards running the ball. 

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About the Author

Zach Berger

Zach Berger is a reporter and Onward State's Managing Editor Emeritus. You can find him at the Phyrst more nights than not. If he had to pick a last meal, Zach would go for a medium-rare New York strip steak with a side of garlic mashed potatoes and a cold BrewDog Punk IPA. You can reach him via e-mail at [email protected] or on Twitter at @theZachBerger.

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