Nebraska, Purdue looking to make midseason turnarounds
Jeff Brohm came to Purdue to win.
The first-year coach still believes he can — despite some major midseason missteps.
So after losing back-to-back games for the first time this season and coming off of their worst offensive performance all year, Brohm bluntly gave the Boilermakers a dose of reality. He’s hoping it helps them break out of this funk Saturday night against Nebraska.
“Sometimes when things aren’t going your way, you’ve got to find a way to speak the truth but in a positive tone,” Brohm said. “I think our guys understood that, and they realized where we made mistakes. They realized that due to a few mistakes happening early, the confidence was shot, and the energy and enthusiasm wasn’t there. We can’t be that team. We won’t win that way. I think that we’ve got to get back up. I think we’ve got to help them get back up.”
The biggest problems have been on offense, which is Brohm’s specialty.
Purdue (3-4, 1-3 Big Ten) has struggled in the red zone, on third down and has scored just one touchdown in eight quarters.
If anyone can empathize with this plight, it’s Cornhuskers coach Mike Riley.
Like Purdue, Nebraska (3-4, 2-2) has lost two straight to fall off the pace in the West Division. And, over the last six quarters, the Cornhuskers have been outscored 77-21 as a once promising season turned sour.
So Riley, like Brohm, must turn things around.
The difference is that the Cornhuskers have had two weeks to evaluate what’s gone wrong and what new wrinkles might work. Naturally, Riley isn’t dropping hints.
“For our team, with where we are, it was really good to get a few days away from us and football,” Riley said. “I think the practices that we did have, I see as kind of a release to get out there and get to play without a game right in front of you.”
But that doesn’t change the tale of the tape.
Both teams need three wins to become bowl eligible.
Both teams need to change directions now.
And both are looking to jump-start their season this weekend.
“We’ve got to make more plays, and we have to have better execution, and we’ve got to try to score more points,” Brohm said.
Here are some other things to watch Saturday:
Nebraska quarterback Tanner Lee threw nine interceptions and six touchdowns in his first 135 passes.
Since then, he’s thrown one interceptions and nine interceptions. His completion rate improved from 51 percent to 60 percent since that ninth interception during that span, too.
Lee, who transferred from Tulane, downplayed the notion he needed to knock off rust early in the season because he hadn’t played game since November 2015. He just didn’t allow himself to get down.
“Just maintaining my confidence and belief in myself and feeding off the support of my teammates has allowed me to keep playing, so I’ll definitely continue to do that,” Lee said.
While the Boilermakers offense struggles, the defense has been impressive.
It’s allowed 16.0 points per game against Minnesota, Wisconsin and Rutgers, and it’s shut out each of its first four Big Ten foes in at least one quarter.
Rutgers was forced to punt on 12 of 14 possessions last season, and the Boilermakers are No. 6 nationally with nine fumble recoveries.
Nebraska redshirt freshman J.D. Spielman, son of Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman, has become a go-to receiver for Lee.
Of his 20 receptions, 19 have come on third or fourth down. That’s the best in the Big Ten and third nationally. Spielman’s five fourth-down catches are No. 1 in the nation. In his last game, against Ohio State, he set a school record with 200 yards receiving on 10 catches.
Purdue’s special teams have been, well, special this season, too.
Purdue linebacker Garrett Hudson has already blocked two punts, and the Boilermakers have two kickers — J.D. Dellinger and Spencer Evans — who each have made five field goals this season. The Boilermakers have made all nine field goal attempts from 40 yards or fewer.
Meanwhile, Joe Schopper is averaging 43.4 yards on punts, 35th in the Football Bowl Subdivision.