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NIU vs. Purdue: Q&A with Hammer and Rails

Leading up to the NIU Purdue game this weekend, Hustle Belt caught up with Travis Miller of the Purdue blog Hammer and Rails.


There is a big game in West Lafayette, Indiana this week between the Huskies of Northern Illinois (3-0) and the Purdue Boilermakers (1-3). To get Hustle Belt readers up to speed on the Boilermakers, we asked Travis Miller of Hammer and Rails, SB Nation'as fantastic source for all things Purdue, some questions to scout the enemy.

Hustle Belt: I know Coach Hazell mentioned using FSU's game plan to stop Lynch. Do you see this working?

Hammer and Rails: Despite the numbers, I don’t think the defense has been that bad aside from the Wisconsin game. They looked terrible as a unit against the Badgers, but before that they had not surrendered a point in the first quarter and only 17 total in the first half. What happened is that the defense wore down, especially in the heat of the first two weeks, and wasn’t getting a break because the offense struggled so much in the second half. The defense could not get a break and had to stay on the field after three-and-outs.

I think the FSU plan can be successful because Greg Hudson, our defensive coordinator, was the linebackers coach at FSU last year. It at least gives Purdue a chance. We know that Lynch is a great player and can really only be slowed, not stopped.

HB: As bad as NIUs defense has been, it seems Purdue's offense has equally struggled. Is this the week Purdue cracks 300 yards and plays better offensively?

H&R: I sure hope so, but I am not confident. It struggled greatly against an Indiana State team that gave up 73 points to Indiana. The players were recruited more for a spread system and are having trouble adjusting to the pro style that John Shoop wants to run. The offensive line has also been a major disappointment. Rob Henry looks uncomfortable on the field and has been at his best running a similar read-option to Lynch. That is more his strength.

HB: Purdue has struggled in the second half but has played well in the first half. What's caused this one-sided performance, and do you think this trend continues?

H&R: That has been Purdue’s tendency as it has been shut completely out in the second half against Cincinnati and Wisconsin. I think the defense has worn down, which is not a good thing when you face a relentless and versatile player like Lynch. The offense also greatly needs a confidence boost because it hasn't exactly lit the world on fire in the first half.

HB: Right now NIU is a 3-4 point favorite depending on the bookmaker, but what outcome do you see unfolding?

H&R: I think this is a must-win for Purdue. The season can quickly get out of hand if the Boilers don’t win and they have no chance for a bowl game with a loss. A win gets things pointed back in the right direction because NIU is not your typical MAC team. They’re very, very good and could easily win 12 games again this year.

NIU also won at Iowa already, and I think that is a big factor from a mental standpoint. Our attendance is way down the crowd won’t be as much of a factor as it was at Iowa, so it certainly helps NIU.

HB: Who are some Purdue players that NIU and MAC fans shoud keep an eye on come Saturday?

H&R: Here are a few:
  • Ricardo Allen - CB - The senior is probably our best defender and most sure tackler. he has 9 career interceptions, four of which he has returned for touchdowns (one short of the all-time FBS record). So far he has two picks this year, one that saved the Indiana State game (and would have been a touchdown had he not tripped) and one against Wisconsin (that he returned to the 10). Not only is he a great corner, he is a threat to score if he does pick the ball off. Unfortunately, he is fighting a nagging ankle injury.
  • Cody Webster - P - Yeah, he's a punter, but he's one of the country. I wrote about him earlier this week.
  • B.J. Knauf - WR - This is a very promising freshman receiver that has speed and has found the end zone twice so far. With as much as Purdue is struggling on offense, that is actually quite good. H reminds everyone a lot of a former Purdue great by the name of Vinny Sutherland.
  • Dalyn Dawkins - RB - A true freshman, Dawkins has shot past a lot of other running backs and has definitely earned some playing time. He was the featured back on last year's mythical HS champions, Louisville Trinity.
A big thank you to Travis Miller and Hammer and Rails for helping us out. Don't forget to check them out at for all things Purdue. Don't forget to check out our game preview of the matchup, which kicks off Saturday at noon on ESPN2.