#24 Nittany Lions Face Boilermakers in Noon Start
Our newly ranked #24 Nittany Lions (5-2, 4-1 Big Ten) travel to West Lafayette, Indiana for their high noon showdown with the Purdue Boilermakers (3-4, 1-3), who are coming off a 27-14 loss to Nebraska. Penn State is, of course, into irrational elation territory after its surprise, 24-21 victory over #2 Ohio State.
For Penn State, winning this game confers minimal bowl eligibility upon their beleaguered program, and they’ll almost certainly get a bid for a better bowl than would a less well-traveled team. On the other hand, the Boilermakers will need to win three of their remaining five games to establish eligibility. Aside from this game, which we’ll presume Penn State will win, select three from Purdue’s remaining opponents: Minnesota, Northwestern, Wisconsin, and Indiana. They better sharpen up their game in a hurry if they want to be a part of the post-season.
The Boilermakers are two weeks into the regime of interim head coach Gerad Parker, having fired former head coach Darrell Hazell, who sported a .111 conference record over his three plus years of coaching Purdue. Parker has told the media that being an interim head coach is his lifelong dream. That makes sense because with the “interim” title, you can’t be held responsible for much of anything, but wins will give you bragging rights. Good thinking, Parker!
I’m not sure I like the railroad tracks going down the middle of the Boilermakers’ new helmets or, indeed, the cow catcher patterns on their new uniform jerseys. Who knew that such slimy sartorial shenanigans could pervade the staid, old Big Ten, of which Purdue is one of the original teams from 1896. I guess once Maryland entered the conference, uniforms joined the circus; no one told them that clown outfits are now frowned upon by our perilously paranoid society.
The Boilermakers and Blough Blow On Offense…
Purdue’s offense is largely geared toward the forward pass. The Boilermakers rank atop the Big Ten in pass offense, averaging 306 aerial yards per game, while occupying the conference cellar in rushing, with only 120.3 average yards per game. Predictably, sophomore quarterback David Blough leads the Big Ten in passing, at 295 yards per game. However, all those throws have resulted in 13 interceptions to go along with his 14 touchdown passes. In the words of the late, lamented Longhorn head coach Darrell Royal, “When you throw the ball, three things can happen, and two of them are bad.”
And when you throw the ball a lot, a lot of bad things happen.
Blough’s prime target this season through the Illinois game was senior wide receiver Domonique Young, who averaged 4.8 receptions and 56.3 yards per game in a breakout season. Unfortunately, Young suffered a leg injury in the game with the Illiniweks, and is gone for the season. Boilermakers senior wide receivers Bilal Marshall and DeAngelo Yancey are expected to pick up the slack. Sophomore tight end Cole Herdman, a frequent target for Blough, has 22 receptions for 253 yards and two touchdowns this season.
…and They Suck on Defense
The Boilermakers flat-out suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck on defense. They are last or next-to-last in the conference in scoring defense, total defense, and rush defense. Moreover — and this will be great news to PSU fans — they are dead last in allowing third-down conversions, with their opponents converting 50.9% of the time! This should enable Penn State to improve upon its last-place standing in the conference at 25.6% (Since we need to recognize true suckage, I’ll tell you that Penn State ranks 127th in the FBS with only Arkansas State lower. A mere .006 conversions per game separates the two. But Purdue takes the cake here, ranking dead last in the FBS in third-down defense!)
Further prime suckage is apparent in the Boilermakers’ turnover margin, which stands at –1.14 per game, good for the bottom rung of the conference ladder that descends into the deep, dark, dank, dusty dungeon of despair. Penn State ain’t no great shakes, though, at –0.43.
Parker’s First Outing
Parker the Dreamer had a “not too bad” first game against the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Many pundits expected the ‘Huskers to pound Purdue to pieces, but the Boilermakers were staunch. Losing 27-14 to a highly regarded Western Division opponent is a positive sign for Parker and his interim regime.
In that game, Blough was 25-43 for 309 yards with two TDs and one INT. His big receiver, Domonique Young did not play due to having incurred a season-ending injury the previous week. Stepping into the massive hole left by Young, Yancey had four receptions for 100 yards and two touchdowns, including a long run of 88 yards. Marshall added five receptions for 84 yards, while Herdman caught five from his tight end position for 39 yards. In all, Blough used eight Boilermaker receivers.
On the turf, though, the Boilermakers suuuuuuuuuuck. Against Nebraska, they wound up with 24 yards net rushing on 22 carries. This seems like an excellent opportunity for our Nittany Lions’ much maligned rushing defense, presently in the bottom three of the Big Ten, to shine. If they can’t stop the cellar dwelling rush offense of Purdue, who can they stop?
Nebraska pretty much dominated the stats, with 22 first downs to the Boilermakers’ 13. The Cornhuskers gained 157 yards on the ground and 252 aerialistically.
Big Intangibles Here
Penn State expended much emotion on the Ohio State game, so here we have the quintessential “trap game” if ever there was one. The Nittany Lions are famous for screwing up noon starts on the road, usually not showing signs of life until sometime in the third quarter. If they overconfidently venture into Ross-Ade Stadium thinking they can’t lose, they’re screwed. They’ll be crying into their boilermakers if they do something they regret there.
It will be up to our crack coaching staff to keep the team and individual attitudes in check and the focus on the business at hand. “That dullard look” better not show its face. Remember, they ain’t no “I” in “team”, but they’s three “U”s in “Shut the Fuck Up!”
Alumni of the Week – Astronauts and Aviators
Purdue University’s prestigious aeronautical engineering program has earned the Boilermakers the right to claim the title of the university that has produced the most astronauts for NASA. The list includes Neil Armstrong, John Blaha, Roy Bridges, Mark Brown, John Casper, Gene Cernan, Roger Chaffee, Dick Covey, Andy Feustel, Guy Gardner, Gus Grissom, Greg Harbaugh, Mike McCulley, Gary Payton, Mark Polansky, Jerry Ross, Loren Shriver, Scott Tingle, Janice Voss, Charles Walker, Mary Weber, Don Williams, and Dave Wolf.
Furthermore, Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, the U.S. Airways flight 1549 captain who successfully ditched into the Hudson River, holds a Master’s degree in Industrial Psychology from Purdue. Tom Hanks plays the title role of “Sully” in a major motion picture directed by Clint Eastwood based on Sullenberger’s memoir, Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters, released in 2016.
Should be a nice, fall day in Indiana — mostly cloudy, with a high of 63°F, but the gusty breezes (in W. Lafayette, they call them Brees-es yukyuk) might play havoc with passing and kicking. The current forecast is for winds from the northwest at 12 mph with gusts to 24 mph. Blough tends to spray his passes around a lot, so this could be fun!
The Bottom Line
Penn State is favored by 11½ points over the Boilermakers, with an over/under of 56½. This would suggest that the gamblers are looking at a PSU victory with the final score of approximately 34-22.
Well, hey, the Boilermakers are allowing over 30 points a game, although Nebraska laid only 27 on them. Could be they’re taking to Parker’s rule with a renewed sense of optimism. Meanwhile, the Nittany Lions never do well with noon starts. Anything could happen.
Sleepwalking through the first half and letting Purdue hang around is a recipe for certain disaster. You’ll have to admit that the possibility has entered your mind. (I know, right?) That and the potential for being overconfident and dismissive are making me nervous. Still, I have high hopes that the Nittany Lions will convert at least 30% of their third downs and make a decent showing offensively for perhaps two full quarters. That’s probably all they need to do, but they better not be thinking that! On the other hand, if they play like they did against tOSU, they’ll win this one by 30 points. I don’t think they can sustain that energy level and focus. Penn State 34, Purdue 17. Take the under.
I’ll be back after the game with a wrap-up of what I hope is a nice win with Toilet Bowl implications.