No. 12 Penn State is expected to cruise past Purdue in its first Big Ten game of the home slate — the Nittany Lions are 28-point favorites — but, if PSU wants to win big, it still needs to dominate its matchups.
Here are the two key matchups to Saturday’s game that we think will directly to determine the outcome:
Josh Moyer: Purdue passing attack vs. Penn State secondary
So why the concern with the Boilermakers’ passing attack? No matter the personnel, thanks to head coach Jeff Brohm, this unit still has the ability to rack up yards. The Boilermakers are ranked No. 6 nationally in passing — good for the top spot in the Big Ten with 351 yards per game — and new faces likely won’t change how this offense operates.
“I mean, they gave Minnesota a great game last week without those guys,” Penn State cornerback John Reid said Wednesday, referring to the Boilermakers’ 38-31 loss. “We know just from their passing game, they’re going to find ways to try to get their guys the ball — whether it’s open space or down the field.
“They really believe in their athletes a lot. They throw the 50/50 ball all the time.”
Jack Plummer, a redshirt freshman, will earn his first career road start Saturday against Penn State. That’s a tough way to open, but Plummer isn’t without experience. He was forced to start against TCU, and he’s thrown 70 passes this season. Although his arm isn’t as strong as Sindelar’s, he boasts a reputation for being a cerebral player. And Brohm thinks he’s ready to take the next step.
Against Minnesota, after all, Plummer nearly rallied the Boilermakers to a win — after trailing 38-17. He finished 23-of-41 passing Saturday for 245 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Not Heisman-type stats, but certainly not bad for a redshirt freshman either.
Pitt’s Kenny Pickett wasn’t exactly setting the world on fire prior to the Penn State game, and he set a career-best with 372 passing yards. Granted, the Nittany Lions’ defense has come a long way since Sept. 14 — but the point is not to underestimate Plummer either.
Penn State’s run defense is a strength (No. 7 national ranking), and the Boilermakers’ rushing offense is a weakness (No. 129 national ranking). So, if Purdue wants to put up points, odds are they’re going to have to go through the air.
So, if PSU stops the pass, it wins the game. If it doesn’t, we might have ourselves a much closer contest than Las Vegas’ projected 28-point difference.
Jon Sauber: Purdue DE George Karlaftis vs. Penn State’s offensive line
Purdue doesn’t have much of a defense to speak of thus far this season. The unit ranks No. 105 in Bill Connelly’s SP+, a tempo- and opponent-adjusted predictive measure of college football efficiency. One of the lone bright spots of that side of the ball is true freshman defensive end George Karlaftis.
Karlaftis was the No. 59 player in the 2019 recruiting class, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings, and the No. 4 strong-side defensive end in the same rankings. He’s one of the most talented true freshmen in the country and has produced like it thus far.
Through the first four games of his college career, the defensive end has three sacks, five tackles for loss and an interception. That production hit its peak last week when he recorded 2.5 sacks against Minnesota. Karlaftis has the size, at 6-foot-4 and 265 pounds, and athleticism to wreak havoc against any opponent.
As a true defensive end, Karlaftis will line up on either side of the defensive line. That means he’s likely to face starting offensive tackles Rasheed Walker and Will Fries the most. Both have played well so far this season, but Karlaftis will present their best test to date. Fries and Walker will need to show they can handle that level of ability, considering the talent they’ll face the rest of the season.
Karlaftis is an elite talent who has the ability to wreck a game for an offense. He could cause serious issues for the Penn State offense if he’s able to consistently beat his man off the snap. With that being said, Penn State should still dominate this Purdue defense. There won’t be much to watch in what should be a blowout Penn State win, but the Nittany Lions should find out if their offensive tackles are the real deal.