— Story by PSU Insider Brian Tripp @psuTripp
On Saturday Penn State makes its first trip to West Lafayette since 2012. The Nittany Lions have not won a true road contest since defeating Indiana 13-7 on November 8, 2014, dropping its last seven road games at campus venues. Each week our Penn State coverage team will provide three keys to a Penn State victory, a player to watch and a score prediction. Here are this week’s keys for Saturday’s game at Purdue.
Brian’s Three Keys:
- Sustain Drives – Penn State continues to struggle on third downs and rely too heavily on big plays. Granted, one of the team’s strengths is its playmaking ability with elite skill players, eventually the inability to control the clock and sustain long drives will impact a game. If a team can eliminate chunk plays, I’m still not sure Penn State can consistently put together a long scoring drive. Against Ohio State, Penn State went 2/13 on third downs and had the ball for just 22 minutes and 41 seconds. The Nittany Lions can’t continue to put that much pressure on their defense and special teams if they want to remain ranked. Facing Purdue provides an excellent opportunity to alter the current third down efficiency rate as opponents are converting on 51% of third downs against the Boilermakers.
- Solid Special Teams – With a one-dimensional offense and lackluster defense, Purdue is not good enough to pull off the upset. However, as Penn State fans know, special teams can prove to be the great equalizer. Purdue has struggled on special teams this year, especially with its kicking game. Overshadowed in Penn State’s blocked field goal and block punt were the team’s own special teams’ hiccups. Penn State was fortunate to overcome John Reid’s muffed punt and a blocked field goal to beat Ohio State.
- Strong Secondary Play – Even with a few injuries, Penn State’s secondary has proven to be one of the team’s strengths. They’ll be tested against Purdue quarterback David Blough and a few dangerous receiving threats. The Boilermakers can stretch the field, so there will be pressure on both the corners and safeties. The safety combination of Marcus Allen and Malik Golden has been one of the Big Ten’s best and cornerback depth is outstanding with the emergence of Jordan Smith behind starters Grant Haley, John Reid and Christian Campbell.
Brian’s Player to Watch
Miles Sanders – Against Purdue’s porous run defense, Saquon Barkley should see enough touches to warrant a few rests. Expect Penn State to take control early and Sanders to get some reps while Barkley recovers on the sideline. Sanders has been close to a homerun kickoff return and should get some offensive touches as well.
Brian’s Prediction: Penn State 27 Purdue 14