Last week the crowd was 107,000 in State College. Next week it will be over 80,000 in Lincoln. This week? Purdue is hoping just to get half of that.
A report this week in The Exponent, Purdue's student paper, cited an associate athletic director who was expecting Saturday's game to draw in the neighborhood of 37,500 fans.
That's how badly things are going right now for the Boilers, whose best win on the season is against 3-5 Marshall. The team more or less quit on Danny Hope last week out at Minnesota, barely registering a pulse while falling behind 44-7 shortly after halftime.
It can't really get worse than that, can it?
What's known is who will start under center for Purdue. That would be sixth-year senior Robert Marve. As to who is there at halftime, or the third quarter, or the fourth, is nothing but a guess. The Boilers have two senior quarterbacks and have shuffled them on and off the field without any real pattern or purpose. Caleb TerBush was suspended for the opener and then started the next seven weeks before Hope finally pulled the plug on Monday and announced Marve as the starter. But will he stick with him? Purdue has used as many as three quarterbacks in games this year, even sprinkling in Rob Henry for some zone-read option plays. Any such swapping on Saturday has to be considered a plus for Penn State. Bill O'Brien, meanwhile, hasn't even put Matt McGloin on the sideline while up 31 in the fourth quarter. It was an uneven night for McGloin last week, who was bothered by a defense's pressure more than ever this year. He threw for a career-high 327 yards, but the game won't be remembered for that. Still, the senior from Scranton is well on his way to leaving Penn State as the school's second all-time leading passer. EDGE: PSU
Neither team has quite found a grasp on this whole running-back-by-committee thing. At least three different backs on each side will probably get some touches on Saturday. It's just a matter of finding the hot hand. Purdue was blown out last week by halftime and had to abandon the ground game. Penn State tried for two quarters and change but couldn't manage even 3 yards per carry -- and that's before sacks are figured in. Bill Belton figures to get another start, but it could just as easily be Zach Zwinak who gets the workload depending on how things go. Purdue has been led by two guys named Akeem --- Shavers and Hunt -- on the ground. But the Boilers have another talent in Ralph Bolden who is finally healthy after recently returning from his third (!) career ACL injury. A few years removed from being a pure spread offense, these Boilers have been a bit more balanced. And the run game has been more consistent than the one at Penn State. EDGE: PU
Kyle Carter's left foot has been one of the biggest concerns in State College this week. After catching a garbage-time touchdown against the Buckeyes, the freshman took a low shot as he crossed the goal line and ended up leaving the field before the final whistle. Penn State listed Carter as probable for Saturday, and his teammates were optimistic he could play despite being limited in practice through Wednesday at the least. Bill O'Brien hedged a bit more than that, withholding judgment until today to see how well Carter can cut and accelerate. One imagines he'll make the trip with the team, but his role could be reduced, with Matt Lehman and Jesse James seeing more throws their way. Penn State loses a lot of punch if Carter isn't full-go, but the passing game should still be effective. Purdue is much deeper at wideout than Penn State, with shifty slot receiver Antavian Edison already with six touchdowns this season. But the talent from Edison to O.J. Ross to Gary Bush doesn't mean all that much if they can't develop a rhythm with the same quarterback every week. Penn State fans know that feeling all too well the last few years. EDGE: PSU
It was bound to happen eventually. But that didn't make Saturday night any easier for the Lions to go over on film. The line had overachieved throughout the season, but faced with a talented and motivated defensive front against Ohio State, the unit struggled mightily. The four sacks allowed only tell part of the story, as Matt McGloin was hurried and knocked down throughout the night. The offense lost its cohesion. Mix in a handful of uncharacteristic penalties -- false starts and holds throughout -- and it was very much a night to forget. Well, the Lions have a chance to prove themselves right away in this one while facing another big defensive line. Penn State has stuck with the same group when healthy, while Purdue has done some shuffling when needed. Converted defensive lineman Kevin Pamphile claimed a starting spot a few weeks ago and is still in line to play Saturday. The Boilers have not done well protecting their various quarterbacks, allowing 18 sacks in eight games. EDGE: PSU
Arguably two of the best defensive tackles in the country will be at Ross-Ade on Saturday in Penn State's Jordan Hill and Purdue's Kawann Short. Regardless of how much they are or aren't recognized in college, both have the makings of solid NFL players. The concern for the Boilers is Short's ankle which kept him out of most of last week's game against Minnesota. Short declared himself at about 90 percent earlier this week, so odds are good that he'll play against the Lions. Bill O'Brien praised the tandem of Short and Bruce Gaston this week, and after how things went for the Lions against Ohio State, containing those two is one of Penn State's top priorities. Penn State welcomed back Pete Massaro to the starting lineup at end last week and the senior recorded his first sack in nearly two years. He and Deion Barnes will continue to rotate at one spot with Sean Stanley and Anthony Zettel at the other. EDGE: PU
The Lions linebackers held on for as long as they could against the Braxton Miller brigade last week. Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges combined for a whopping 27 tackles. Mike Hull had a sack and blocked a punt for a touchdown. But even those guys couldn't hold off Miller forever. Well, they won't face anything resembling Mr. Miller this week, regardless of who all plays quarterback for Purdue. If there's any senior at Penn State who is totally aware he's down to four games left in his college career, it's Mauti. And it should be interesting to see what he does for an encore to his first eight games this year. Purdue's group at linebacker has been unspectacular with junior Will Lucas leading with 41 tackles. Joe Gilliam mans the middle and a few guys have gotten the nod at the other outside spot. The defensive line helps cover up some of the shortcomings of the linebackers. EDGE: PSU
Now here's a unit of more concern for Penn State's offense. The Boilermakers have come up with 11 interceptions on the season, with safety Landon Feichter leading the Big Ten with four of his own. Bill O'Brien and a few players were sure to reference Feichter's range when discussing this week's matchup, so they're very aware the Boilers can turn a game around with one timely pick. Though he has been up-and-down this season while fighting uneven play and injuries, cornerback Ricardo Allen falls into that group as well. Though he has just one INT this year and was briefly benched at one point, Allen made a name for himself quickly as a very aggressive cover man with a handful of pick-sixes already on his resume. Offenses have also been able to exploit his big-play mentality at times. Penn State just got its first interception by a defensive back all season when Adrian Amos came up with one against Ohio State. EDGE: PU
For the first time in three games, the Lions didn't allow a touchdown in the return game. More than that, they actually blocked their second punt of the season and scored what was at the time a huge touchdown. But Bill O'Brien, who has spent much of the year defending his special teams, made it a point this week to express his displeasure for his own kick return unit, calling it terrible. That's more than just the guys actually fielding the ball, but the blockers, the coaching and the scheme itself. Some personnel changes may be on the way. Also of some alarm is a recent quad injury to kicker Sam Ficken. Ficken, who grew up in Indiana and is the cousin of former Purdue hoops star Robbie Hummel, is still expected to handle kickoff and field goal duties this week as he did last. It's a situation that bears monitoring. Purdue has the Big Ten's best punter in Cody Webster, but things are more unsettled at kicker, where Sam McCartney has wrestled the job back from Paul Griggs. McCartney has attempted just one field goal this season. EDGE: PU
For weeks upon weeks, this looked like one of the tougher games on Penn State's schedule. On the road against a veteran team with enough talent and experience on both sides of the ball to give any opponent some serious trouble. So what happened to that team? Maybe all that Leaders Division darkhorse talk from the summer was a little far-fetched. But there's no reason the Boilers should be playing this poorly. There's no other way to describe last week's meltdown in Minneapolis other than to say the players simply quit. I have no idea what happens next. If Purdue can somehow find a way to at least flip that motivation switch back on at this point, the Boilers are still capable of winning this game. That probably requires giving Robert Marve some slack at quarterback and not replacing him after the first three-and-out. Penn State has faced nothing but mediocre passing games since September and has rarely been tested through the air. This is a very fast and athletic group of receivers and the Lions' secondary could have some trouble adjusting early on. I expect Purdue to actually put up a fight and score some touchdowns, contrary to what they showed last week. But I also expect Matt McGloin and the Penn State offense to get back into a rhythm on offense and return to a score in the 30s. The Lions are eyeing eight wins as a truly successful season given the circumstances. To hit that number, taking advantage of a listless team like Purdue is a must. EDGE: PSU
PREDICTION: PENN STATE 31, PURDUE 21