Nebraska Opponent Spring Review: Purdue
As Nebraska enters a critical fifth season under head coach Scott Frost in 2022, we decided to look at where things stand with the Huskers’ 12 opponents coming out of spring practices.
Today, we continue with Purdue, which comes into 2022 with fairly lofty expectations after a 9-4 campaign and Music City Bowl win over Tennessee last season.
Tom Dienhart of GoldandBlack.com gave us his thoughts on the Boilermakers heading into the summer and fall camp...
Three spring storylines to know
1. This is Aidan O'Connell's team
A second-team All-Big Ten selection in 2021, Purdue's offense got a massive boost this offseason when quarterback Aidan O'Connell announced he would return for a sixth year of eligibility.
There's a case to be made that the Boilermakers now boast the second-best QB in the conference behind Ohio State's C.J. Stroud, and the expectations in West Lafayette have skyrocketed as a result.
O'Connell threw for 3,700 yards and 28 touchdowns at a 71-percent clip last season to help guide Purdue to its best record since 2003. As long as he's on the field, the Boilermakers feel they'll have a chance to win every game.
To little surprise, he didn't do much this spring, but O'Connell's return has lifted the optimism around the Boilermakers higher than it's been in nearly two decades.
It should be noted that O'Connell will not only be without top wide receiver David Bell, who was a third-round draft pick, but also his No. 1 returning target, Milton Wright. Wright was ruled academically ineligible following the spring and is no longer with the program.
2. The offensive line is once again a concern
While Purdue might have one of the Big Ten's best under center, the offensive line is once again arguably its most pressing concern coming out of spring ball.
The Boilermakers have had issues upfront for decades, and this year is no different. They do return three starters, but that was from a group that has ranked last in the Big Ten in rushing each of the past three years.
Head coach Jeff Brohm hasn't shied away from the fact that his offense needs more balance, or at least better production in situational running on short-yardage and goal-line carries.
Because PU has had such little push from its o-line, it's had to rely on gimmicky runs far too often, which has clearly proven to be unsustainable in the Big Ten.
3. Who will be the playmakers on defense?
Purdue generally ranked in the middle of the pack in the Big Ten in terms of defensive statistics in 2021, but the expectation is that its defense will be as formidable as it's been in years this season.
But after losing All-American defensive end George Karlaftis to the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft, the Boilermakers are still searching for their next star on that side of the ball.
Purdue's coaching staff said this spring that the defense could go three-deep at nearly every position and not have much drop-off. But will any player fill Karlaftis's role as the guy opposing offenses highlight on every scouting report?
No one emerged as that player during the spring, and the search for a true defensive difference-maker or two will continue on into fall camp.
Early outlook on Nebraska vs. Purdue
Dienhart: "I think Purdue can beat them. I think at worst, it's going to be a pick'em, and with having homefield, I think Purdue should be giving about three points. Purdue has had some good recent success against Nebraska - not that that really matters, but they know they can beat Nebraska.
"They're two very parallel programs, but Purdue has Aidan O'Connell. I know Nebraska has Casey Thompson, but I don't know how good he's going to be. Purdue's got Aidan O'Connell on his homefield against Nebraska, and I think Purdue should beat them.
"I think it's going to be a close game - they always play close games. But I think Purdue's going to find a way to beat them and eke out another close win."
2022 win-loss expectation for Purdue
Dienhart: "Worst case, 7-5. Best case, 9-3, with a chance to finish as high as second (in the West). I'm not sure they're going to win that division, but I think they have as good of a chance as anybody.
"But without a doubt, a bowl game is the expectation. The question is, how good of a bowl game can it be, and can this team really make a push to win the division?
"This is probably the most-anticipated season in Jeff Brohm's six years in West Lafayette. It starts with Penn State on Sept. 1 on a Thursday night on national television. If they win that game, look at their schedule after that.
"If they beat Penn State - and I'm not saying this is 1986 Penn State - but there's a chance they could start off 6-0 or 7-0. It's not crazy, and it certainly could set up for them to get off to a heckuva hot start and have a lot of momentum as we get close to Halloween."