Penn State, coming off an emotional loss at home to Ohio State last weekend, has to quickly get back on the horse, or more appropriately, the train. This week, the Nittany Lions take their traveling show on the road as they head out to West Lafayette, Indiana to take on the Purdue Boilermakers.
At first glance, this may look like an easy Penn State victory. Both teams appear headed in opposite directions. Penn State has won 5 of 6 games while Purdue has lost 4 straight. After Saturday’s game, Purdue will play two of its remaining three games on the road. They will need to win 3 of their last 4 games just to qualify for post-season play. Penn State still has a shot at a 9-win season which would be truly remarkable considering all that has transpired over the last year in Happy Valley.
This week, Purdue AD Morgan Burke issued a one-paragraph missive to head football coach Danny Hope and his Boilermakers football team. In part, the statement read, “Everyone around our football program has high expectations for the 2012 season. Our student-athletes, alumni, fans, coaching staff, and administration all expect to see the program move forward and take a step up the postseason ladder. Currently, our performance has kept us from reaching our goals…”
If that isn’t a thinly-veiled directive at Coach Hope to get his troops moving in the right direction, then I don’t know what is! So, with AD Burke’s statement setting the tenor for this week, coach Hope decided to bench starting QB Caleb TerBush in favor of redshirt senior Robert Marve. Marve has played in all but three games this year and has thrown 6 TDs against only 2 INTs. Marve certainly isn’t the dual-threat QB that TerBush is, but he is a more accurate and effective passer.
Besides the change at quarterback, Purdue has slowly and carefully been working senior running back Ralph Bolden back into the picture. Bolden sat out the first five games as he was rehabbing his knee from an ACL tear that occurred last season. While Bolden is not the workhorse he once was, he is a nice change of pace compliment to featured back Akeem Shavers. Shavers has 432 yards rushing and 3 TDs, but he hasn’t scored a rushing touchdown since September 29th against Marshall.
On the outside, Purdue boast one of the most unheralded and talented wide receivers in the Big Ten, Antavian Edison. His six receiving scores are good for 3rd in the Big Ten while his 38 receptions are tied for 5th with his teammate O.J. Ross.
So, while Penn State should have a defensive advantage in this game, Purdue has enough skilled offensive weapons to be able to put up some points in this game. On the defensive side the Boilermakers rank 11th in the Big Ten in total defense and they rank 10th in scoring defense. But, don’t let that foo you. This team has been tough against two of this year’s marquee teams – Notre Dame and Ohio State. Against the Irish it took a late scoring drive for Notre Dame to pull out the 20-17 win, and it took a last-second miracle drive by Ohio State to pull out a 29-22 OT win.
Now, with their backs up against the wall, the Boilermakers need to put together their best game of the year or risk not making a bowl game since 2010 when they last their last 6 games of the season. Might the same thing be happening again this year?
Keep reading to find out what my keys to a Penn State victory at Purdue are for Saturday: