Originally written on MaizeAndGoBlue  |  Last updated 11/16/14

Read our preseason Purdue preview here.

With Ohio State and Penn State ineligible for the postseason and Wisconsin looking uninspiring, this might be the year for Purdue to earn a spot in the Big Ten championship game. The Boilermakers blew out Eastern Kentucky in the season opener and then almost shocked Notre Dame in South Bend in Week 2, falling 20-17. Purdue bounced back with convincing wins over Eastern Michigan and Marshall. Are the Boilers for real this year? Let’s take a look.

Purdue 2012 Statistics & Michigan Comparison Purdue | Michigan Rank Opponent Rank Points Per Game 42.5 | 28.5 13 | 59 20.8 | 23.0 39 | 53 Rushing Yards 806 | 738 426 | 728 Rush Avg. Per Game 201.5 | 184.5 32 | 45 106.5 | 182 23 | 87 Avg. Per Rush 4.9 | 5.1 3.3 | 4.0 Passing Yards 1,048 | 837 992 | 618 Pass Avg. Per Game 262 | 209.2 43 | 89 248 | 154.5 81 | 9 Total Offense 1,854 | 1,575 1,418 | 1,346 Total Off Avg. Per Game 463.5 | 393.8 38 | 74 354.5 | 336.5 43 | 31 Kick Return Average 21.5 | 23.4 61 | 40 20.8 | 23.8 60 | 94 Punt Return Average 6.1 | 5.0 84 | 91 7.7 | 5.2 67 | 46 Avg. Time of Possession 31:14 | 29:22 42 | 72 28:46 | 30:38 3rd Down Conversion Pct 58% | 47% 3 | 32 42% | 44% 83 | 91 Sacks By-Yards 11-83 | 3-45 25 | 116 8-64 | 5-38 67 | 32 Touchdowns Scored 24 | 15 11 | 10 Field Goals-Attempts 2-2 | 3-4 3-6 | 7-10 Red Zone Scores (17-19) 89% | (11-14) 79% 26 | 75 (10-14) 71% | (12-15) 80% 25 | 59 Red Zone Touchdowns (15-19) 79% | (8-14) 57% (7-14) 50% | (7-15) 47%

Purdue has one of the nation’s top scoring offenses so far this season, averaging 42.5 points per game. But aside from Notre Dame, which ranks third nationally and held the Boilers to just 17 points, the defenses they have faced rank 105th (EMU), 120th (Marshall), and 48th in FCS (EKU) in scoring defense. That being said, Purdue managed 11 more points against Notre Dame than Michigan did. That’s perhaps the one game we can use to properly determine how good this Purdue team is.

Danny Hope has amassed a 19-22 record in three-plus years in West Lafayette (photo from PurdueSports.com)

It was the second game of the season, and before we had any indication of how strong either team would be. Notre Dame scored first, but Purdue answered to knot the score at seven at the half. The third quarter was all Notre Dame as the Irish took a 17-7 lead. But Purdue fought back in the fourth, kicking a 33-yard field goal and scoring a touchdown on a 15-yard pass with 2:12 remaining to tie the game. However, Notre Dame marched down the field for the game-winning field goal with seven seconds left. It was the closest game the Irish have played so far and the most points they have allowed.

In that game, Purdue’s offensive numbers were pretty similar to Michigan’s against the Irish – both teams moved the ball pretty well (Michigan had 299 total yards, Purdue had 288) and converted third downs – but Purdue took much better care of the ball (two interceptions versus Michigan’s six turnovers) and converted all three of its red zone chances. In other words, Purdue’s offense was more efficient but still managed to lose. That’s because the defense couldn’t stop Notre Dame’s passing game.

The Irish completed 24-of-39 passes for 324 yards on Purdue’s secondary. It’s a secondary that ranks 81st nationally and may just be the weakness of the team despite entering the season as the projected strength. Marshall passed for 439 yards against the Boilers this past Saturday, but then again, the Thundering Herd have been doing that to everyone this season.

The Purdue rush defense has been strong, having not allowed an individual 100-yard rusher yet this season. Notre Dame managed just 52 total rushing yards and only Eastern Michigan (169) has rushed for over 100 as a team against the Boilers. The stout rush defense is led by tackle Kawann Short who leads the team with seven tackles for loss and four sacks. The leading tackler is linebacker Will Lucas with 25.

Offensively, the Boilers had been rotating Caleb TerBush and Robert Marve at quarterback until Marve tore his ACL against Notre Dame. The job is now held by TerBush with Rob Herny coming in occasionally. TerBush has completed 64 percent of his passes for 531 yards, seven touchdowns, and four interceptions, while Henry has thrown just 15 passes for 103 yards, a touchdown, and an interception. TerBush has the second most carries (20) on the team, behind only running back Akeem Shavers.

Michigan has won two straight in the series after losing to Purdue in 2008 and ’09, but Michigan has dominated the all-time series 43-14. Purdue has its sights set on a historic season with the Big Ten championship game in reach, and Michigan has the same. The conference opener for both teams should be a tough battle and the winner will be one step closer to a Big Ten title.

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