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Nebraska Cornhuskers vs. Purdue Boilermakers: Preview, predictions and prognostications

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When: Sat. Oct. 31; noon ET
Where: West Lafayette, IN; Ross-Ade Stadium (57,326)
TV: ESPNU
All-Time Series: Nebraska leads 2-1
Last Meeting: Nebraska Win; 35-14 (2014)
Line: Nebraska -10.5

1 Burning Question: What Will Huskers Offense Look Like Without Tommy Armstrong? 

Nebraska announced late on Thursday that third-year starting quarterback Tommy Armstrong was not going to be behind center on Saturday in West Lafayette. The coaching staff is going with the “it’s a turf toe-like injury” line, but it doesn’t sound good for the senior signal caller.

In will step Ryker Fyfe, a redshirt junior who has attempted all of 18 passes in his entire career. He was a former walk-on from Grand Island, Neb. and may be much more of a fit in the old system than what Riley would ultimately like to have happen in his offense.

The good news, Fyfe appears to have the offense down pat.

However, there’s not much known as what we’ll see on Saturday against Purdue and this could be a blessing in disguise for this team or a complete curse for a team who can’t buy good luck in 2015.

2 Key Stats:

—0: That is the number of wins combined between the two starting quarterbacks on Saturday. Redshirt freshman David Blough has yet to find the winners circle early on in his career (and it hasn’t really been his fault for the most part), while we all know Fyfe is making his first career start. The only question is who’s going to get that magical first career win as a starter?

— 2-0: That is Nebraska’s record against Purdue since joining the Big Ten. Nebraska may not have a lot of luck on its side this season, but what it does know going in to this game is that it has dominated the Boilermakers in the two meetings between the two teams as members of the Big Ten conference. The Huskers won 44-7 in the first meeting in 2013 and 35-14 last season.

3 Key Players:

Ryker Fyfe, Nebraska QB: No way around it, making your first career start on the road in the Big Ten is not easy — even if it is in West Lafayette. Fyfe doesn’t have a running game that can win games on its own to rely on, instead he’s going to have to prove he can run the full offense and do it at a high level. His insertion in to the lineup certainly makes this game way more interesting that it ever was before.

Markell Jones, Purdue RB: In a season where there is a complete lack of a win against an FBS opponent, Jones has become a glimmer of hope for this team. He’s a potential future star in the Big Ten, but in this contest he has to be the star for the Boilermakers to get that rare win in conference play under Darrell Hazell (it would be just their second if you’re counting at home). Jones has a team-best 458 yards and has five rushing touchdowns already this season. Finding a way to gash a Huskers defense that is 4th in the Big Ten won’t be easy, but look for Jones to test that theory in a major way.

Maliek Collins, Nebraska DT: Speaking of the Purdue run game, one major obstacle for the Boilermakers to get over stands right in front of them on every down in the form of the 300-pound Maliek Collins. He’s had himself a pretty impressive year in the middle of the defense, racking up 23 tackles, 4.0 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks so far on the season. Jones isn’t the most powerful of backs, but he can squirt through the smallest of holes. If Collins can plug up the middle on the rushing downs and collapse the middle of the pocket on passing downs, look for Purdue to have a rougher end to an already rough October.

4 Bold Prognostications:

— Markell Jones will lead the Boilermakers in all-purpose yards for the 2nd straight game: If Jones could lead Purdue in all-purpose yards against that Wisconsin defense, you can bet your bottom dollar he’s going to be able to do it against a vastly inferior defense like Nebraska. Look for the freshman to continue to make his mark on the season with another great day in the run and pass game.

— Terrell Newby tops the 200-yard mark: One would think the game plan for the Huskers would involve a lot more running than passing for the first time all season long. However, after hearing Riley and the coaches speak, don’t expect the playbook to be pulled back too much. Still, Fyfe and any other QB on the Huskers roster is helped by a strong running game, and that is where Newby comes in to play. He’s rushed for over 100 yards just twice this season, but is going up against a Purdue defense that is allowing nearly 200 yards per game to opposing offenses. Newby tops that by himself as Fyfe gets going early and forces the Boilermakers to back the stacked defense off. He takes full advantage and gets himself over the 200-yard mark for the first time this season.

— Purdue will fail to score in the red zone: If there’s one crazy stat out there in the Big Ten it is this one — Purdue is a perfect 100 percent on touchdowns in its red zone opportunities in Big Ten play. Yes, you’re reading that correctly. However, all good things must come to an end and the Boilermakers will see at least one of their red zone drives stall out or be flipped by a turnover before this contest with Nebraska is over.

— De’Mornay Pierson-El has a breakout game: The redshirt sophomore was high on a lot of preseason lists (ours included), but an injury in fall camp set him back by four games and he hasn’t been much of a factor since returning. That all stops on Saturday, as the speedy wide receiver gives Purdue’s secondary fits and hooks up with Fyfe for a pair of touchdowns and over 80 yards receiving on the day. Those would both be season highs and a big boost of confidence for a returner looking to prove he’s more than just speed and flash.

5 Staff Predictions:

Andy: Nebraska 41-17 (65-15 overall; 35-44 ATS)
Dave: Nebraska 45-21 (65-15 overall; 43-35 ATS)
Greg: Nebraska 30-20 (59-21 overall; 44-34 ATS)
Matt: Nebraska 31-24 (64-16 overall; 48-30 ATS)
Phil: Nebraska 30-17 (19-8 overall; 9-15 ATS) *joined in Week 5

Andy Coppens is the Founder and Publisher of Talking10. He's a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and has been covering college sports in some capacity since 2008. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyOnFootball

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