Nebraska football is coming off its second straight loss, a 38-31 home defeat at the hands of Indiana. This Saturday, the Huskers will have a chance to rebound on the road against a struggling Purdue team.
Here’s what to watch for on Saturday:
Adrian Martinez’s likely return
Sophomore quarterback Adrian Martinez has struggled with a lower body injury for the past few weeks, but he is getting closer and closer to a return. It’s likely that he will be back this week.
At Tuesday’s media availability, Martinez said he felt “ready to go,” but it isn’t official that he will start on Saturday.
In his absence, the Husker offense still performed well against Indiana. Sophomore second-string quarterback Noah Vedral and freshman third-string quarterback Luke McCaffrey combined to go 19-22 for 272 yards with 19 rushes for 97 yards, one passing touchdown and two touchdowns on the ground.
However, Martinez has consistently been the best option for Nebraska’s offense this year, and his return would make a big difference.
Purdue’s passing attack
Last week, the Blackshirts were ripped apart by Indiana’s conference-best passing attack. This weekend, they will go up against Purdue, which also passes the ball frequently. Only three FBS teams pass the ball more than the Boilermakers, and 19 of their 23 touchdowns have come through the air. Purdue currently sits at No. 18 in passing offense in the country, averaging 301.3 pass yards per game.
For reference, the Hoosier’s junior quarterback Peyton Ramsey had 40 pass attempts in last week’s win against Nebraska. As a team, Purdue averages 41.8 pass attempts a game. If the Husker secondary plays anything like they did last week, it will be another long day for the defense.
However, part of the reason the Boilermakers rack up so many yards through the air is the high number of attempts they make. This doesn’t mean they are an efficient passing team. Purdue ranks No. 71 in team passing efficiency, a statistic that takes into account pass attempts, completions, yards, touchdowns and interceptions.
The Boilermaker passing offense has regressed since senior quarterback Elijah Sindelar went out with a broken collarbone. Freshman Jack Plummer has been serviceable, but he still is a steep dropoff from Sindelar. In nine quarters, Sindelar had 978 passing yards, 64.3% completion, nine touchdowns and three interceptions. On the other hand, Plummer has 1,361 passing yards, 57.5% completion, nine touchdowns and six interceptions in five games, and was benched in Purdue’s loss to Illinois.
Despite the Boilermakers’ recent struggles, they will present a challenge for a Blackshirts defense that is also struggling.
A must-win attitude
Nebraska coaches and players throughout the season said that every game is a “must-win.” However, this game will be especially important to the Huskers’ bowl game chances.
On paper, the Huskers seem to be the better team in this matchup. That hasn’t mattered this season up to this point, as Nebraska has been unpredictable on a week-to-week basis.
Nebraska still has just one road win in the Scott Frost era, and the defense has been incredibly weak in conference play, save for a strong performance again Northwestern, which has one of the worst offenses in college football.
Still, Purdue is without some of its best offensive players, and is 1-4 in conference play. Nebraska should be able to come out with the win on the road and come within one game of bowl eligibility.
With four games to go and Wisconsin and Iowa still left on the schedule, the Huskers might need a miracle to make a bowl game if they fall to Purdue.