Purdue has gone from the Cradle of Quarterbacks to the Revolving Door of Signal Callers. Danny Etling is the sixth quarterback to start for the Boilermakers since 2010, and Purdue is 18-29 with an 8-20 mark in the Big Ten since then. Etling is completing just 48 percent of his throws and has five interceptions in five games with four touchdowns. He’s backed up by redshirt freshman Austin Appleby. Christian Hackenberg continues to rank in the Top 5 of most Big Ten passing categories but has cooled off lately. Hackenberg has completed just 47 percent of his throws in the second halves of the past two games. Advantage: Penn State.
Penn State finds itself in an interesting situation. Now that Zach Zwinak has resurfaced and has been able to quell his fumbling issues, Bill Belton has two fumbles over the last two games. Luckily for the Nittany Lions, both Zwinak and Belton are running well. While Belton offers more of a big-play threat, Zwinak continues to pound opposing defenses with his size and physicality. Belton wasn’t relegated to the bench after his early fumble last week. Instead he played on nearly every passing down that required a running back. Akeem Hunt is Purdue’s primary option but isn’t particularly imposing at just 5-foot-9 and 184 pounds. He and Dalyn Dawkins are both averaging a little more than three yards per carry. Neither has a rushing touchdown this season. Advantage: Penn State.
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Wide receivers/Tight ends
Allen Robinson is expected to suit up but could be in line for some rest against an overmatched Purdue team. Robinson suffered a shoulder injury against Minnesota, and although he was able to return he could benefit from some time to heal. Expect redshirt freshman Geno Lewis and freshman Richy Anderson to get more looks. Senior Brandon Felder must step up after two rough outings. Penn State tight ends Kyle Carter, Jesse James and Adam Breneman blocked well last week and are always solid options in the passing game. Purdue’s DeAngelo Yancey has the Boilermakers’ two longest plays from scrimmage — a 55-yard touchdown catch and a 50-yard reception. Other than Yancey, Purdue’s receiving corps lacks a serious threat. Hunt leads the team in catches with 33 while tight end Justin Sinz is second with 25. Advantage: Penn State
Purdue can’t run the ball and often fails to protect its quarterbacks. The Boilermakers average just 68 yards on the ground per game and less than three yards per carry. Statistically, they are the second worst rushing team in FBS, have just three rushing touchdowns on the season, and the Boilers have given up 28 sacks. Penn State’s offensive line has really come together nicely lately and has paved the way for 440 rushing yards over that past two games. Penn State’s two-game total is 71 percent of Purdue’s rushing total for the entire season. Ouch. Advantage: Penn State.
Bruce Gaston leads the Boilermakers with 61/2 tackles for loss with three sacks from his defensive tackle spot. Ryan Russell has made plays at times, but overall the Boilermakers haven’t been able to get much pressure or slow opposing running games up front. Save for a few big plays, Penn State tightened up along its front in the second half against Minnesota. Nittany Lion defensive linemen should be licking their chops to get at Purdue’s suspect offensive line. Advantage: Penn State.
Penn State suffered a big loss with Ben Kline going down for the season with a torn pectoral muscle. Nyeem Wartman and Brandon Bell could see more time alongside Glenn Carson, Mike Hull and Stephen Obeng-Agyapong, though the latter two have been banged up as well. Purdue’s linebackers haven’t helped much against the run this season. Will Robinson is the unit’s leading tackler and he’s fourth on the team with 43 stops. Carson, by comparison, leads Penn State with 72 while Hull has 56. Advantage: Penn State.
Purdue’s defensive backs can tackle. Of course, they’ve had to make a lot of stops this season. Anthony Brown, Taylor Richards, Frankie Williams and Ricardo Allen are all in the top 6 of Purdue’s tackling leaders with Brown, Richards and Williams the top 3. Allen, a senior, is the unit’s playmaker at cornerback. He has three interceptions, a sack and four tackles for losses. He’s got 10 interceptions in his career that includes nearly four seasons worth of starts. None of Purdue’s four starters are over 6-feet tall, however. Adrian Amos played his best game last week at corner. He tallied six tackles, broke up a pass and played solid coverage for most of the afternoon. Advantage: Penn State.
Purdue has had plenty of chances to hone its punting game and has at least excelled in that area. Boilermaker Cody Webster has booted 55 of his team’s Big Ten-leading 58 punts for an average of 45 yards. On the other side, Hunt functions as a dangerous kick returner. He’s taken two back in his career. Meanwhile, Alex Butterworth has improved his punting over the past few weeks and Penn State’s kick coverage has also been better. Sam Ficken wins the statistical comparison with Paul Griggs. Purdue’s kicker is just five-for-10 on the season. Advantage: Penn State.
The Boilermakers have foundered in crucial situations. They have the worst red zone offense in the conference and also trot out the worst red zone defense. Purdue is the only team in the Big Ten worse on third-down conversions than Penn State, converting on just 30 percent. Meanwhile, Purdue has been outscored 183-52 in the second halves of games this season, including a ridiculous 101-31 in the fourth quarter. Advantage: Penn State.