Penn State was all amped and ready to go last week at home in front of a buzzing Beaver Stadium, but it was Ohio State who had all of the energy going for them in the second half of a physically draining contest.
Now Penn State takes to the road to take on a Purdue team that was expected to play a little bit of a larger role in the Big Ten’s Leaders Division this season.
One of the things we have learned from Penn State this season is that it is difficult to knock them down too much. Credit senior leadership from guys like linebacker Michael Mauti, fullback Michael Zordich and quarterback Matt McGloin. When the team dropped to 0-2 to start the season Penn State came back and rattled off five straight wins to seemingly turn a lost season around. Given that precedent, how likely is it they let one loss to Ohio State, the best team in the Big Ten this season, get to them so much they falter again this weekend?
Purdue is a team that is in a bit of a free fall, having lost four straight games and sitting on the bottom of the Big Ten Leaders Division with an 0-4 conference record. Three of the losses have not even been close. The struggles of Purdue have led to some speculation head coach Danny Hope is running out of time on the sidelines, but injuries have played a role in holding the team back. This weekend’s starting quarterback, Robert Marve, suffered a torn ACL early in the season and is somehow back on the field trying to spark the offense. Marve replaced Caleb Terbush last week in the second half and gave Purdue some life late to close the gap against Minnesota, but it was too little too late for the Boilermakers. This weekend will mark his second start of the season.
If Marve is able to play at full strength, he has the ability to keep Purdue’s offense in the game with receiver Antavian Edison leading the way in the pass game. Edison leads the Boilermakers with six touchdown receptions and 432 yards. Gary Bush is also a red-zone threat to catch the football with five touchdown catches this season. Purdue’s offense entered the year expected to give some teams a good challenge on a regular basis, but Purdue has thrown 11 interceptions (second most in Big Ten behind Michigan) and lost six fumbles. So when Purdue does have something seemingly going for them, the chances they run in to some problems appears likely, although having Marve starting could help cure some of those problems.
Defensively, Penn State will need to make sure Marve is rattled early and often, and maybe force him to try and move around a little because there is little chance he will be at 100 percent with his feet. Penn State head coach Bill O’Brien is also pretty familiar with what Marve can do, having tried to recruit him to Duke when he was still an assistant for the Blue Devils before joining the New England Patriots staff.
Where Purdue has fallen exceptionally short of expectations this fall is on defense. The Boilermakers had what many called an underrated defensive unit last season, but you would not know that from watching them this season. Purdue has allowed 29.8 points per game this season, third highest in the Big Ten (Indiana, Illinois). Only Indiana has allowed more points per game at home than Purdue. Purdue ranks next to last against the run in the Big Ten, allowing 194 rushing yards per game, so expect Penn State to let Bill Belton, Zach Zwinak and Michael Zordich set the tempo on the ground. Purdue is also ninth in the 12-team Big Ten against the pass, allowing 213.9 yards per game and 12 touchdowns through the air, which would suggest O’Brien’s offensive schemes could be in for an Iowa-esque sort of game if they start on the right foot.
As you are well aware by now, Penn State is ineligible for postseason play but remember that they can still win the Leaders Division crown. Having lost to Ohio State, the Nittany Lions are one game back of a split for the division crown.
Purdue is more than capable of keeping Penn State in check if they can put it together this weekend, as evidenced by their Week 2 setback at Notre Dame. Purdue fell to the Irish 20-17 in the final seconds, as the Fighting Irish rallied late for the win. Purdue has seen the wheels come off since then, of course. A loss puts Purdue one game closer to being ineligible for postseason play, so the Boilermakers may need this game more than Penn State.
Who needs the game more though is totally irrelevant. If Penn State plays at the level they have shown against Iowa and Illinois or even in the first half against Ohio State (defensively at least), this could be another long afternoon for Purdue.