LINCOLN — Purdue just pulled quarterback Danny Etling out of a potential redshirt season in its last game, so Nebraska doesn't know much about the freshman heading into his first career start Saturday.
The only snaps Etling has taken came against Northern Illinois on Sept. 28 before the Boilermakers headed into a bye week, but NU defensive coordinator John Papuchis did take note that Purdue mainly ran dropback plays when they called passes for the 6-foot-3, 215-pounder from Terre Haute, Ind.
“We're just kind of trying to get a feel for who he is and what he's about,” Papuchis said Wednesday.
Asked if Nebraska would be inclined to blitz more against a first-time starter, Papuchis said some of the Huskers' pressures might be dictated by how Purdue attacks NU.
“But we'll give him enough multiple looks so that his first start won't be easy,” he said.
“We don't know at all about his mental makeup and who the guy is. Maybe he's going to be poised and relaxed, and if so, good for him. Or maybe he's going to be antsy and nervous. We'll see.”
Etling glad for bye
Etling made sure to take advantage of the week off as he prepares for the Nebraska game.
He studied the game plan. He watched film of the Huskers and of his own team at practice. He got some extra reps with his receivers, too.
Etling called the bye week “a blessing” after he completed 19 of his 39 throws in the loss to Northern Illinois.
“It's a great feeling to get to go out there and play on Saturday.”
Still unsettled at safety
It's not clear yet who Etling will see at NU's safety spot next to Corey Cooper. The Huskers started Andrew Green last week against Illinois, and redshirt freshman LeRoy Alexander came on when Green moved to the dime linebacker position.
Harvey Jackson also has started this season.
“Coop will be at one of them ...” secondary coach Terry Joseph said.
“And we'll keep working,” he added.
Joseph said Alexander, a 6-foot, 190-pounder from Toledo, Ohio, “flashed at times” in his first extensive action but remains inexperienced.
“He's earned an opportunity to show what he can do,” Joseph said. “He's practiced well, and he's a guy that's athletic. He was a basketball player in high school, and he has some length about him.”
Joseph said Green tackled better and made some strides last week. in the dime role, Joseph said, the senior gives the Huskers a defender who can blitz and be solid in coverage against sets with four wide receivers.
Joseph also said Harvey Jackson has practiced well recently and that the staff will continue to bring along sophomore Charles Jackson.
Papuchis said linebacker Zaire Anderson has been practicing all week, but said it's yet to be determined how much the junior plays after missing the Illinois game with a bone bruise.
That led to the first career start for Michael Rose at weakside linebacker. Might another be coming for the redshirt freshman after he made a team-high 11 tackles in the 39-19 win?
“It's a little too soon to say,” Papuchis said. “But right now he's taking a lot of reps (with the No. 1 defense).”
Hitting the road
Nebraska is going on the road for the first time this season, but one group that shouldn't be fazed is the Huskers' offensive line.
The Huskers have five seniors among their top eight on the line. The non-seniors are juniors Jake Cotton (starting left guard), Mike Moudy (backup guard) and Mark Pelini (backup center).
“It's a veteran group, so they've been on the road quite a bit,” NU assistant coach John Garrison said. “Jake Cotton is probably one of the younger guys, but he's certainly traveled and been able to handle those situations.”
Garrison said NU will get a chance to find out a little more about itself with the trip to West Lafayette, Ind.
“It's going to feel weird not playing at Memorial Stadium,” he said. “I got to find a duffel bag to pack some stuff.”
Purdue ranks second-to-last in the Big Ten in turnovers — and is regularly spoiling its best drives.
Purdue has 11 total turnovers, one less than Michigan. Six Boilermaker miscues have occurred in opponent territory.
The Boilermakers have scored 10 times on 16 red zone attempts (62.5 percent). Only one FBS team, Louisiana-Monroe, has a worse scoring rate inside the 20.
“Once the ball has crossed the 50-yard line, we have not done a great job of taking care of it and then producing points,” coach Darrell Hazell said. “That's what we need to do.”
* * *
Video: The Big Ten Preview Show, Oct. 9
Video: The Big Red Today Show, Oct. 8