Quick 2021 Recap
Purdue won nine games for the first time since 2003, finishing the season 9-4 as they were led by Quarterback Aidan O’Connell dropping dimes to his favorite receiving target David Bell, as well as defensive end George Karlaftis being a problem for opposing offenses. The Boilermakers had their historically successful year by pulling off upset wins at then second-ranked Iowa and at home against then third-ranked Michigan State, followed by a wild overtime thriller of a victory against Tennessee in the Music City Bowl (despite Bell and Karlaftis having opted out of the bowl game).
Offensive Player To Watch: Aidan O’Connell (QB)
Unfortunately for Purdue, Bell will be busy catching passes from Baker Mayfield for the Cleveland Browns. Fortunately for Purdue, O’Connell opted to return for his extra COVID year, providing experience and stability at a critical slot. Now, if Purdue can establish some big-time receiving targets for O’Connell, the drop-off from last season could be minimal. Yes, they did already win a game in the post-Bell era with the Music City Bowl dub, but it’s one thing to get by in a bowl game as opposed to an entire season. Much like Penn State, Purdue also had a horrendous running game in 2021 (127th out of 130 teams in rushing yards per game) that it will seek to rectify, as well
Defensive Player To Watch: Cam Allen (S)
Purdue returns several starters on defense, making this one a little tricky, but let’s go with Allen, who is the team’s leader in interceptions with four of them last year, as well as garnering 65 total tackles. He will certainly be a guy to keep an eye on in the Purdue secondary.
Purdue Wins If
O’Connell is slinging across the yard to his new favorite targets, who are able to come close to Bell’s athleticism and effectiveness and supplement that with a decent ground game. The defensive line also figures out a way to compensate for the loss of Karlaftis and is able to get consistent pressure on Sean Clifford, as well as stifle a PSU rushing attack that struggled mightily last season. The fact that this is also now a Thursday Night primetime game on FOX should lead to a much more energetic crowd than would otherwise be expected, which should give a boost to the home team.
Penn State Wins If
Sean Clifford and the PSU offense play relatively mistake-free football and some semblance of a run game is established. On the other side of the ball, the defense does not allow the Boilers to establish a run game and makes Aidan O’Connell beat them by chucking the rock 60 times. With all due respect to Aidan, the offense thrived in large part because of Bell, and Purdue does not recruit at a consistent enough clip to stack skill position guys as talented as him on their roster. Furthermore, the defensive line and secondary should be the most reliable spots on the PSU defense and a pass happy team like Purdue plays right into their hands, as there could be ample opportunities to get pressure/sacks on O’Connell and force some bad throws that result in Ji’Ayir Brown or someone else in the secondary getting their hands on them.