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Behind Enemy Lines: Previewing Northwestern vs. Purdue with Travis Miller of Hammer & Rails

Travis Miller takes our questions.

Purdue v Northwestern Photo by David Banks/Getty Images

This week we’re talking to Travis Miller of Hammer & Rails, the SB Nation Purdue blog. Here’s what he has to say.

Inside NU: On October 16th, Purdue finally got rid of Darrell Hazell, and Gerad Parker took over... Ever since, it has seemed like Purdue has been more competitive (at least for first halves). What's changed, and is there any way Parker keeps the job going forward?

Travis Miller: I don’t think Parker is keeping the main job going forward, but I definitely would love to keep him on as an assistant. I think he is just getting more effort to start games, and his teams look infinitely more prepared. Offensively they are mixing it up more (again, at least for a half) and defensively they have been more aggressive.

His largest issue right now is depth. With Michael Mendez going down against Minnesota, we essentially have 5 serviceable offensive linemen. On the defensive line we’re paper thin as well. Our top three running backs are banged up, with Markell Jones playing almost the entire season with a shoulder injury. We simply do not have the bodies to make it through a full Big Ten game right now. Purdue wears down, especially in the defensive front, and falls apart in the third quarter.

INU: David Blough is putting up some monster numbers this year, even though a lot of them are coming with his team way down. What does Blough do well, and who are the top options around him?

TM: Blough does well throwing on the run and when the line actually gives him some time to throw. DeAngelo Yancey has been a consistent big play threat while Cameron Posey is his third down safety blanket from the slot. Tight ends Cole Herdman and Brycen Hopkins have also come along very nicely. Since Domonique Young was knocked out for the season against Illinois, Bilal Marshall has stepped up nicely as well.

Blough has settled in since disastrous games against Cincinnati (5 interceptions) and Maryland (sacked 6 times). I think he has finally settled the Purdue quarterback question, and he seems to grow a little more each game. He just needs a consistent line and healthy running backs to complete the full package. Unfortunately, that may not come until next year.

INU: This defense has been just bad by pretty much every measure out there. What are the biggest issues, and is there any sign of progress/improvement?

TM: Purdue can’t stop the run. As I said above, it normally does well for a half, but wears down. At one point in the third quarter against Penn State, Purdue had only given up 17 yards rushing. Then the floodgates opened and Saquon Barkley finished with over 200 (Though 82 came on one very late play). There are moments of improvement, but we face good running backs week in and week out in this league.

Also, Purdue has been horrid on third downs defensively. It has gotten better in the last few games. We have improved to 113th nationally by only giving up 46.3% of our third downs. That is quite an improvement from after the Iowa game when we were dead last (128th) giving up over 50%. At one point against Cincinnati we gave up 12 straight third down conversions. At least now we can get off the field in the first half. We never could under Hazell.

INU: Are there any areas for concern for Northwestern fans in this matchup? If so, what are they and how can Purdue capitalize?

TM: The Purdue passing game has been quite potent in the first half under Parker. Blough has thrown 7 first half TD passes to only one interception and has had two of those TD plays go for over 80 yards. Purdue has not had a lot of problems getting to halftime either leading or tied. Unfortunately, it has been outscored 80-10 in the second half under Parker. Twice Purdue has had the ball coming out of the break and immediately threw an interception hat setup the go ahead score. Against Penn State Purdue gave up a stadium record 45 points in the second half and 62 for the game (also a stadium record for visiting teams). Against both Minnesota and Penn State it felt like a score to start the second half would have made a huge difference, but instead it swung the other way.

INU: On a scale of 1-10, how sad is Ross-Ade Stadium on Saturdays?

TM: Can empty seats be sad? I think things are a little better now with Hazell gone and the powers that be at least saying the right things about finally making a commitment to football. It seems as if Mike Bobinski has done a great job of convincing the President and Board of Trustees that investment in the program is necessary. By firing Hazell, getting the lights project off the ground, and getting the Board to at least make a verbal commitment to football he has done more in 2 months for Purdue football than Morgan Burke did in the last 10 years.

INU: Prediction time: Who wins Saturday, by how much, and why?

TM: Northwestern by 7-13 points. I think Purdue keeps it close and even leads again at halftime, but we haven’t figured out how to play two halves of football yet.

Thanks to Travis for his help, and make sure to check out H&R for Purdue’s perspective!