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updated: 10/12/2013 12:03 AM

Nebraska trying to figure out Purdue's new look

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  • Purdue's Akeem Hunt stretches the ball out as he crosses into the end zone for a touchdown against Northern Illinois during a Sept. 28 game in West Lafayette, Ind. Purdue has the league's third-worst rushing defense at 183.2 yards per game.

      Purdue's Akeem Hunt stretches the ball out as he crosses into the end zone for a touchdown against Northern Illinois during a Sept. 28 game in West Lafayette, Ind. Purdue has the league's third-worst rushing defense at 183.2 yards per game.
    Associated Press

  • Redshirt freshman Tommy Armstrong Jr. will start again at quarterback for the Cornhuskers.

      Redshirt freshman Tommy Armstrong Jr. will start again at quarterback for the Cornhuskers.
    Associated Press/Oct. 5, 2013

 
Associated Press

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Darrell Hazell is shaking things up.

Purdue's new coach made a quarterback change, switched right guards and tinkered with his defensive lineup during the bye week. He's hoping it makes a difference Saturday against Nebraska.

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"The biggest thing for me offensively is taking care of the ball. We have not done a good job of taking care of the football," Hazell said. "Once the ball has crossed the 50-yard line, we have not done a good job of taking care of it and then producing points and that's what we need to do."

Little has gone right for Purdue (1-4, 0-1) this season. The offense is scoring a league low 17.0 points per game. The defense is giving up a league-high 36.6. The turnover margin, minus-4, is last in the Big Ten, and their 10 scores in 16 red-zone trips also is the Big Ten's lowest.

Clearly, something had to change, so Hazell decided to give true freshman Danny Etling a chance to jump-start the season.

Two weeks ago, the young quarterback brought instant energy to the field when he replaced Rob Henry late in the first half of a 55-24 loss to Northern Illinois.

This week, he'll at least be facing a defense ranked in the bottom half of the league in most major categories.

The bad news for Purdue is that Nebraska (4-1, 0-1) has been getting better each week. After allowing nearly 30 points through the first three weeks, the Cornhuskers have allowed just 19.5 points the last two weeks.

With injured quarterback Taylor Martinez expected to sit out again with a turf toe injury, redshirt freshman Tommy Armstrong Jr. should get his first career road start.

Nebraska coach Bo Pelini isn't worried.

"I think it's always a concern. It's always an issue. It's something we'll talk about," he said when asked about taking a young team on the road for the first time this season. "I think it will be a good experience for our guys. Some of them have been on road trips but there's a difference between being on a road trip and walking out there as a starter on the first play. I think it will be good for us."

Here are five more things to watch Saturday:

CRADLE OF QUARTERBACKS: Nobody will be under the microscope more than Etling. Not only was he widely considered the quarterback of the future, he plays at the Cradle of Quarterbacks. Expect to see many of his more famous predecessors -- Dawson, Griese, Danielson, Herrman, Everett, Brees and Orton -- splashed across the television screen this weekend along with the stats from their first starts.

RUN, RUN, RUN: Nebraska has the Big Ten's No. 2 rushing offense at 291.6 yards per game. Purdue has the league's third-worst rushing defense at 183.2 yards per game. Three weeks ago, Wisconsin gashed the poor-tackling Boilermakers for 388 yards on the ground in a 41-10 victory. While the Badgers and 'Huskers use different running styles, Nebraska almost certainly will test Purdue's defense with a heavy ground game. If that's effective, they won't need Armstrong to have a big day through the air.

TOUGH MAN: At 5-foot-9, 190 pounds, Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah may not have prototypical size for a Big Ten running back. The junior hasn't let it become an obstacle. He ran for more than 1,000 yards and eight TDs last season, already has 690 yards and five TDs this season and has the respect of Hazell, who understands it won't be easy putting Abdullah on the ground Saturday. He needs 23 yards to join Nebraska's 2,000-yard club and 177 yards to crack the top 25 rushers in school history.

GOING YOUNG: In addition to all those other changes, Hazell shuffled the depth chart at receiver, too. The top four receivers on this week's depth chart are all freshmen or sophomores and starter B.J. Knauf is out, serving the first game of a two-game suspension after his arrest last week.

ONLY THE START: Purdue and Nebraska have met only one other time, a 28-0 Purdue win in 1958. Next year, Purdue will make its first trip to Lincoln. But this is about to become an annual date when Nebraska and Purdue will move into the Big Ten's renamed West Division next year.

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