After losing two of its most notable players to injury in last week’s game, the Boilers must quickly regroup as they prepare to face the No. 12 Pennsylvania State University.
The Nittany Lions (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten) have been one of the most dominant teams in the country. Their defense hasn’t given up more than 10 points this season and is rolling heading into this week’s game against Purdue (1-3, 0-1). The last time Penn State’s defense took the field, it held Maryland scoreless with a 59-0 victory.
Although this will be one of the toughest games of the season for the Boilers, they have slain the giant before. Purdue was a major underdog against then-No. 2 Ohio State University last year, but a 49-20 upset happened.
It is possible for the Boilermakers to recreate the magic of last year’s upset, but they need a lot of things to go their way offensively, and it all begins with the new starting quarterback, redshirt freshman Jack Plummer.
With fifth-year quarterback Elijah Sindelar’s injury, Plummer will be the starting quarterback for the foreseeable future. He has appeared twice so far this season due to injury, once in his start against Texas Christian University and in last week’s loss against University of Minnesota after Sindelar went down.
For the first time this season, he enters the week as the predetermined starter. Before this year, Plummer had never played a snap in college football. Saturday’s game in State College, Pennsylvania, will be his first road game ever, in perhaps the toughest environment in the Big Ten. Beaver Stadium seats 106,572 fans and will be loud and rowdy up to the very last whistle.
“That’s a pretty big atmosphere to go into your first time actually getting in the game on the road, but I think he’ll handle it well,” said Brian Brohm, Purdue’s quarterbacks coach. “He’s going to prepare himself as best he can. We got to get him geared up for all the noise and the communication it’s going to take with the offensive line. Just getting him to speak up, be loud, be confident and take control, take command of the offense. We’ll be focusing on that this week.”
Although Plummer hasn’t played in an environment of this stature yet, he’s fully confident in his ability to play under the pressure.
“It’s just a normal football field 100 yards long and 53 yards wide,” Plummer said. “I think it’ll just be a noise factor, I don’t think the size of the football stadium will affect me at all.”
In addition to having Plummer fill in Sindelar’s absence, the wide receivers are without two of their starters: sophomore Rondale Moore and junior Jared Sparks. In Week 5, freshman David Bell shined and took over for Sparks on the outside.
“I thought David was outstanding. It was great to see him,” head coach Jeff Brohm said in his weekly press conference. “He played hard. He played tough. He made plays. ... He’s got some great play-making skills. He will be tested this week against a very good team and there won’t be a whole lot of time to throw the football, so it will challenge us on offense. But as far as his future, I think he can be outstanding, and once again, he’ll look better if we can get better around him.”
As far as Moore’s injury goes, no one can truly replace what he does for the offense, but wide receivers junior Jackson Anthrop and freshman TJ Sheffield will likely split his snaps.
“Last game, (Anthrop) played quite a bit. Probably got more tired than (he) was used to but he had some production,” Jeff Brohm said. “I think (Anthrop) goes hard. You know, TJ Sheffield will be in the mix now as well, so that we can spell (Anthrop) a little bit and not wear him out.”
The most interesting side of the ball this week, however, will be the defense. Although the numbers and film may not necessarily show it, they’ve held their own this season. Whenever the offense kept them off the field long enough, they did their job. However, like all defenses, the more time they were on the field, the more they struggled.
“Guys get tired and we got to keep them fresh,” said defensive coordinator Nick Holt. “When you got everybody hurt and guys not doing what they’re supposed to be doing, it’s hard to replace those kind of guys.”
When the Purdue offense is able to put together drives, the defense more often than not has performed well. However, against Minnesota, the defense went through some turmoil that led to players getting pulled out of the game. Both cornerback positions are now up for grabs, though for now redshirt freshman Cory Trice and redshirt freshman Jordan Rucker are listed as the starters.
“There’s not a starter for sure at those positions. We’re going to have open competition in some of the positions, especially on defense,” Jeff Brohm said. “I think it’s important that we open things up and we allow guys to have an opportunity to play and compete and see where they are at. There are some young guys that need to play more, (we) need to see exactly what they can do for us.”
Another new starter on defense is senior defensive tackle Kai Higgins.
“Well, we didn’t get the production we wanted from the inside interior of the D-Line at this point. (Higgins) is someone that I think plays extremely hard,” Brohm said. “He has experience for us. He cares. He’s a very good leader and we want to find ways to get him on the field.”
Even with the defensive changes, Purdue will still have a tough task ahead of them when trying to slow down the Penn State offense. They scored 79 points against Iowa, 59 points against Maryland and 45 points against Buffalo. Their lowest output this season was 17 points.
Nittany Lions sophomore quarterback Sean Clifford was named Big Ten co-offensive player of the week after his performance against Maryland. He threw for 398 yards and had three passing touchdowns. Clifford also had one rushing touchdown. The Penn State offense will be looking to replicate that same success against Purdue.
“(Big Ten teams) think they can do everything against us,” Holt said. “I’m sure they’re licking their chops, going, ‘Wow, we can run the ball against these guys, we can throw the ball.’ That’s how it’s going to be this year when people watch us. ... We just have to play good, sound defense, which we’re capable of.”