STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Purdue coach Jeff Brohm knew his team faced a nearly insurmountable challenge in playing No. 12 Penn State without its full complement of players.
The Boilermakers found themselves at a 28-point disadvantage early in the second quarter but only surrendered one more touchdown over the last 30 minutes to fall 35-7 on Saturday at Beaver Stadium.
Down more than a handful of starters on offense and defense, Brohm was encouraged by his team’s effort.
“I thought we regrouped on defense and got more aggressive in our approach, started to blitz more, started to show more blitz, back out and be a little more creative,” Brohm said of his team’s second-half effort. “That’s what we’re going to have to do on defense in order to succeed.”
For the fifth consecutive game, Penn State’s defense held an opponent under 14 points. The unit entered the contest ranked second in the FBS (7.5 points per game). The Nittany Lions haven’t allowed more than two touchdowns to opposing offenses this season.
Purdue (1-4, 0-2 Big Ten) arrived in Happy Valley under less-than-ideal circumstances. Starting quarterback Elijah Sindelar and wide receiver Rondale Moore were injured last week against Minnesota and were unavailable Saturday, further adding to the Boilermakers’ mounting injuries.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Jack Plummer logged the second start of his young career and finished 13 of 27 passing for 113 yards with one touchdown.
“Well, he hung in there and played hard,” Brohm said. “I didn’t think he played great, took too many sacks. Now looking at the video, there probably are some times when I don’t know what else he can do other than chuck (the football) in the stands right away.”
The Nittany Lions’ defense pounced on the undermanned Boilermaker offense, sacking Plummer 10 times. The Nittany Lions came up just two sacks shy of breaking a school single-game sack record.
“We knew he was a young redshirt freshman,” said Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons, who recorded a sack. “We knew our front had to be dominant, as usual. They put a lot of pressure on him and showed him some looks he probably hasn’t seen before.”
Penn State defensive end Shaka Toney accounted for three sacks to bring his season’s total to five, while defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos tallied two. Plummer recorded his first completion at the 14:17 mark in the second quarter.
Under Sindelar and Moore, Purdue boasted the Big Ten’s No. 1 pass offense (351 yards per game).
“I believe they’re the best passing offense in the Big Ten,” Toney said. “We really wanted to challenge ourselves. We knew we had to come out and get pressure on the quarterback, and that’s what we did.”
Purdue’s rushing attack finished with -19 yards, and the Boilermakers’ offense gained just 123 yards and eight first downs. Penn State’s defense for the second consecutive week held an opponent under 129 yards of offense. Penn State’s rush defense entered the contest at No. 7 nationally.
The Nittany Lions (5-0, 2-0) scored touchdowns on their first four drives to build up a 28-0 lead early in the second quarter. The momentum stalled in the second half, as the Nittany Lions’ first five drives of the second half resulted in punts.
“We showed some all-out blitz looks,” Brohm said. “That’s what we’re going to have to do, so it’s good to see that. And when you do that, it puts the offense on their heels, and that’s what happened.”
Penn State running back Noah Cain awakened a crowd that had grown listless during the Nittany Lions’ offensive lull with a 2-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. Cain again flashed why Penn State head coach James Franklin’s been so complimentary toward the freshman back this season.
Cain opened the six-play scoring drive with an 11-yard run, and he added rushes of 16, 8 and 27 yards before his 2-yard touchdown scamper. Cain received a team-high 12 carries which he converted into another team-high 105 yards.
“He’s very decisive in how he runs,” Franklin said. “He sticks his foot in the ground and gets north/south. He breaks tackles. He’ll get a 16-yard, a 12-yard, a 4-yard (run). … He’s just very consistent.”
All wasn’t bad for the Boilermakers, however.
Purdue capitalized on Clifford’s second turnover of the year for its lone points. Boilermaker cornerback Simeon Smiley picked off a pass from Clifford and returned it to his team’s 38.
On the ensuing play, Plummer found receiver Jackson Anthrop for his first completion of the game – for 1 yard – and the next play he tossed a 42-yard completion to David Bell.
Plummer and Amad Anderson Jr. finally put the Boilermakers on the board with a 15-yard touchdown pass and catch at the 7:18 mark in the second quarter.
Bell for the second consecutive week led Purdue in yards receiving as he accumulated 59 on three receptions. Plummer targeted the freshman seven times.
Purdue hosts Maryland for homecoming next week, where it will try to snap its three-game losing streak.
“It is a big game,” Purdue offensive lineman Grant Hermanns said. “It is a chance to shift the momentum and get this team back on track, and it starts with the leaders. … So we got to get this team going and get us back on track. Football is a game of momentum, and it starts with Maryland next week.”