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Opponent Q&A: Talking NU-Purdue with Hammer and Rails

Travis Miller takes our questions

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Every Thursday during football season, we'll be reaching out to opponent SB Nation sites or opponent beat writers to give readers another perspective on Saturday's upcoming game.

After a huge, come-from-behind win over Penn State last week, the Wildcats remain in Evanston to entertain the Purdue Boilermakers, who sit at the bottom of the Big Ten West, at 11 a.m. CT. It's been a long, tough rebuilding process in West Lafayette, but Travis Miller of Purdue's SB Nation site, Hammer and Rails has been there through it all. He took some time to answer our questions:

Inside NU: The big news this week out of West Lafayette is that Darrell Hazell is expected to return to the sidelines next year as head coach for the Boilermakers. What's the general feeling regarding that decision among the fan base and in your opinion?

Travis Miller: We think it is ridiculous. Purdue just got blown out at home and gave up 382 rushing yards to Illinois. ILLINOIS! Even then, Hazell said he believes 100% that the program is going in the right direction.

I think if Hazell does return, and it looks like he will, he has to can his coordinators in John Shoop and Greg Hudson. Hudson's defenses have had some moments, but their failures have greatly been influenced by the fact that John Shoop has been a disaster as an offensive coordinator. There is no identity to the offense. The defense often plays pretty well for about a half but wears down in the second half because the offense can't move the football.

If all three return next year Purdue will probably set a record for fewest season ticket sales.

INU: Purdue secured one of the bigger shocks of the year two weeks ago, putting up 55 points to beat Nebraska, led by David Blough's four touchdowns. Why was the Boilermakers' offense so effective in that game in particular, and how can they get back to that?

TM: Well, can Clayton Thorsen turn the ball over five times, including four of them inside the Northwestern 25 yard line? Purdue beat Nebraska because their pass defense is awful and all five turnovers went our way. Even John Shoop can score when he gets the ball in the red zone. Ryker Fyfe fell apart in sections and Purdue was able to take full advantage with 28 points off of turnovers.

INU: After splitting carries with D.J. Knox, Markell Jones has taken the reigns in the backfield with Knox injured and played well. Is Knox supposed to return this week? If so, will the two split carries, or will Jones get the majority of the carries?

TM: Knox is still questionable at best and the logical third stringer, former four-star commit Keyante Green, has been in Hazell's doghouse all season and hasn't played at all. Knox and Jones pretty much split carries when Knox was healthy, but Jones has been a very good freshman so far. He is going to be a special back if he ever gets any kind of help around him.

INU: Purdue's defense has been among the worst in the nation. What are the major causes of the struggle, and are there any bright spots at all on the unit?

TM: As I said above, Purdue can compete for about two quarters, but the defense gets worn down and things like Virginia Tech, Minnesota, and Illinois happen. Even against Nebraska, they folded with a big lead. The two causes are the offense not doing anything for long stretches and ridiculous positioning by Hudson as coordinator. He regularly has guys well out of position and tackling is often an issue. I have no doubt Purdue has good players, but aside from linebackers coach Marcus Freeman, the coaching has been awful. When you give a 10-yard cushion to a receiver and the offense only needs 5 yards it suddenly becomes very easy for an opponent to convert.

INU: Northwestern's coming off an emotional come-from-behind win last week and might be caught looking ahead to Wisconsin next weekend. What one specific thing should the Wildcats be worried about in this matchup that could cause them trouble?

TM: Team-wide food poisoning? They see it is Purdue and they slack off? Mass narcolepsy? Labor strife from their union? Really, just don't turn the ball over and you'll be fine.

INU: Finally, what's your prediction for Saturday and why?

TM: Well, I will be in Evanston along with my co-editor Juan and I'd imagine we're going to get some great pizza from Lou Malnati's or something like that. As for the game, Purdue has proven it cannot beat a Big Ten team unless the opposition massively screws up. Avoid that and you're fine.

For my answers to Travis' questions, click here.