Location: West Lafayette, Ind.
Coach: Darrell Hazell
Record: 1-4 (0-1 Big Ten)
Series with Nebraska: Purdue leads 1-0.
Last game: Lost to Northern Illinois 55-24
Purdue, under first-year coach Darrell Hazell, has 52 freshmen, making up 46.4 percent of the entire roster. The depth chart features 18 freshmen and sophomores, so, yes, youth is a factor in the Boilermakers’ 1-4 start. Two of Purdue’s top three rushers, Dalyn Dawkins and B.J. Knauf, are freshmen, although Knauf, a wide receiver, is suspended for two games and won’t play Saturday. True freshman Dan Monteroso, sidelined in fall camp because of injury, will take his place. Four freshmen have caught passes, and true freshman Danny Etling will make his first career start at quarterback against Nebraska. Also, Hazell said this week that as many as three more true freshmen may play for the first time Saturday.
Not much has gone Purdue’s way this season, and that includes the schedule. Nine teams on the Boilermakers’ schedule have been ranked or are receiving votes in the Associated Press poll. Four of Purdue’s first five road games are against such teams, and the Boilermakers have already played three teams – Notre Dame, Wisconsin, Northern Illinois – that played in a BCS bowl last season. Combined, Purdue’s opponents were 96-56 last season.
Fifth-year senior Rob Henry started this year's first five games at quarterback. Then came a bye week, and a position move. Now, Henry is hoping to see playing time at safety. He moved there after Hazell declared true freshman Danny Etling the new starting quarterback. Austin Appleby is the No. 2 quarterback, and the only way Henry sees snaps again is an emergency situation. Hazell said Henry will play special teams early, and because Purdue is thin at safety, could even see playing time there Saturday.
Boilermakers on offense
Purdue hasn’t found much consistency on offense. The Boilermakers have been turnover-prone – their 11 turnovers are tied for ninth-most among FBS teams – and have switched from fifth-year senior Rob Henry to true freshman Danny Etling at quarterback.
Henry had thrown six interceptions and four touchdowns in four-plus games, and Etling threw two interceptions in his first career appearance, against Northern Illinois. Coach Darrell Hazell, though, likes Etling’s ability to throw the ball more consistently outside the hash marks.
The Boilermakers average only 87 rushing yards per game, and 3.1 yards per attempt. They’ve had only two rushes of more than 20 yards through five games, and none from their best big-play threat, running back Akeem Hunt.
“He’s got some legitimate speed,” Hazell said. “Once you get him on the edge, he’s got top-end speed, so he can take it the distance. We need him to run a little bit better between the tackles on some of those power plays. But he’s a big weapon for us. He’s really one of the guys making those plays for us right now.”
Hunt, who’s rushed 61 times for 193 yards, is Purdue’s top rusher, and also leads the team in receiving, with 19 receptions for 198 yards. His longest reception resulted in 44 yards. Only one other player, Justin Sinz, has more than 10 receptions, and 16 different players have caught at least one pass.
Offensive averages / national rank
17.0 / 112
301.6 / 117
87.0 / 116
214.6 / 82
Boilermakers on defense
Purdue has allowed 948 total yards over its last two games, against Wisconsin and Northern Illinois. Wisconsin, one of the nation’s top rushing teams, piled up 388 yards on the ground in a 41-10 victory.
Missed tackles and an inability to create more negative plays – Purdue has just four sacks in its four losses – have been the biggest concern.
Junior defensive end Ryan Russell leads Purdue with four tackles for loss and two sacks, and junior safety Taylor Richards has a team-leading 31 total tackles. Defensive tackle Bruce Gaston has been taking snaps at defensive end and could have a few plays Saturday when he comes off the edge.
Because the Boilermakers are thin on the back end, Rob Henry moved to safety last week after he volunteered to switch positions when he lost his job as starting quarterback. Hazell said Henry is already in the second-team or third-team range and could play against Nebraska. SAM linebacker Sean Robinson is also a converted quarterback.
Purdue’s top defender is senior cornerback Ricardo Allen, who’s on watch lists for the Jim Thorpe and Bronko Nagurski awards. Allen has a school-record four interceptions returned for touchdowns in his career, and is one shy of tying the NCAA record.
Defensive averages / national rank
36.6 / 110
413.6 / 77
183.2 / 87
230.4 / 66
Boilermakers on special teams
Akeem Hunt and Raheem Mostert are both dangerous threats on kickoff returns. Hunt has a kickoff return for a touchdown this season, against Indiana State, and returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown last season at Ohio State.
Mostert, meanwhile, is third among active FBS kick returners with a 29.2-yard career average. He was the FBS leader as a freshman in 2011 with a 33.5-yard average, and has four career returns of 71 yards or more.
Kicker Paul Griggs is 5-of-8 on field goals, with misses from 27, 39 and 49 yards. He’s made two field goals of 47 yards, his longest makes. Punter Cody Webster, a Ray Guy Award candidate, is 10th nationally with a 45.3-yard average.
Players to watch
Akeem Hunt, RB, jr., 5-9, 184 pounds
He’s leading Purdue in both rushing and receiving, and is a threat on kickoff returns, too. He’s a big-play back with top speed, but hasn’t had a rush for more than 16 yards so far this season.
Ricardo Allen, CB, sr., 5-9, 186 pounds
Allen has nine career interceptions, his last one coming at Wisconsin to put him in the top 10 of Purdue’s all-time chart. He’s second among active FBS players in interception return yards with 234.
Bruce Gaston, DL, sr., 6-2, 310 pounds
He’s a starter at defensive tackle, although he’s been experimenting at defensive end, where coaches hope Gaston will avoid the many double teams he’s been seeing. Gaston is tied for fourth on the team with 21 tackles, and has three tackles for loss.