INDIANAPOLIS | Purdue coach Darrell Hazell and defensive coordinator Greg Hudson are ready for the sequel.
Ten months ago, Hazell's team was lining up against Mount Carmel grad Jordan Lynch and Northern Illinois in the Mid-American Conference title game. Hazell lost in double overtime. A month later, Hudson's team faced Lynch and the Huskies in the Orange Bowl. Hudson won in regulation.
Hazell, the former Kent State coach, and Hudson, the former Florida State linebackers coach, will be on the same sideline today, trying to stop Lynch yet again.
"The only thing I see them dramatically doing different is they're allowing him to throw the ball more off of looks," Hazell sad. "So if he gets a look where it's favorable to him, you can see him check and he throws the ball outside and gets it out of his hands very fast."
Lynch's strong arm is only part of Purdue's problem.
After leading the Huskies (3-0) to unprecedented heights in 2012, the quarterback and Heisman Trophy hopeful is within 21 yards passing of joining the 4,000-yard club and 173 yards rushing of reaching the 3,000-yard mark. Only nine other Football Bowl Subdivision players have done both.
Plus, he wins.
The Huskies have 24 victories in their last 26 games, including the New Year's Day loss to the Hudson's defense. This year, Northern Illinois already has beaten Iowa, and if they win at Purdue (1-3, 0-1), like they did in 2009, it would be the first time in school history the Huskies have knocked off two Big Ten schools in the same season.
It all starts with Lynch.
"I think, again, what makes him so tough is it's hard to tackle him. He's a hard runner and he's a patient runner," Hazell said. "So we're going to have to do a good job of wrapping him up and not shoulder tackling him."
Here are things to watch for in today's game.
STALLED OUT: Purdue's offense is in dire need of a jump start. Four games into the season, they have averaged a meager 15.3 points per game. Only nine FBS schools are scoring fewer points this season, and only one (South Florida) plays in a power conference. Some fans are already calling for a quarterback change, though that won't come this week and Hazell insists Rob Henry continues to improve. The key this week is getting receivers to win one-on-one matchups and getting a stagnant ground game (2.6 yards per carry) on track. To put the rushing game in perspective, 13 teams are averaging more yards rushing per game than Purdue has compiled in four games combined.
ON THE DEFENSIVE: Northern Illinois has been every bit as bad defensively this season as Purdue has been offensively. Really. The Huskies rank 115th out of 123 in total defense (493.7 yards allowed), 100th in scoring defense (33.7 points allowed per game) and 80th in rushing defense (174.7). Coach Rod Carey, who played for Bill Mallory at Indiana, spent the early part of the week explaining why those numbers are skewed. But the reality is this: One of these sides will produce healthier numbers this week, and whichever one does is likely to walk off the field a winner.
WEARING DOWN: One thing is clear from the stats: Purdue wears down. A quick check of the scoring by quarter shows the Boilermakers even in the first (14-14), falling behind in the second (27-23), digging themselves into a hole in the third (38-14) and getting blown out in the fourth (49-10). Why? The Boilermakers are young and lack depth. And, at times, the defense has been on the field way too long. Eventually, that combination takes a toll.
RALLY HELMETS: Even if Purdue does get off to a good start, Boilermakers fans might be a bit nervous. It's understandable. While the Huskies have won all three games this season, they've had to come back in all three.
CELEBRATION: As tough as the first month of the season has been at Purdue, this afternoon will be a time to celebrate. The school is honoring two coaching legends, Jack Mollenkopf and Joe Tiller, during the game. Though the 1963 team, coached by Mollenkopf, finished 5-4, it did pull off a rare triple by beating Notre Dame, Indiana and winning at Michigan. Tiller, who led the 2000 Boilermakers to the Rose Bowl, and offensive linemen Matt Light, who played on that team before protecting Tom Brady's blindside with the New England Patriots, will both be inducted into the school's Hall of Fame.