No. 24 Penn State out to end road skid with visit to Purdue

Purdue Pete, the Purdue mascot, poses on the sideline during an NCAA college football game against Illinois Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016 at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, Ill. (AP Photo/Bradley Leeb)
Purdue Pete, the Purdue mascot, poses on the sideline during an NCAA college football game against Illinois Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016 at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, Ill. (AP Photo/Bradley Leeb)

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP) – No. 24 Penn State brings a serious dose of momentum to Purdue for Saturday’s game.

After all, the Nittany Lions are coming off a 24-21 upset of then No. 2 Ohio State last weekend. Penn State (5-2, 3-1 Big Ten) is firmly in the discussion for a division title, too.

However, the Nittany Lions have not won in an opponent’s stadium since 2014 and have lost seven consecutive true road games, including two this season. Penn State coach James Franklin hopes his defensive front can bring help bring an end to that skid.

“I think Ohio State had given up five sacks all year, and we were able to get six sacks in the game, five coming in the second half,” Franklin said.

Purdue (3-4, 1-3) is well aware of Penn State’s aggressive defense, which ranks second in Big Ten sacks with 22. Only No. 2 Michigan has more (25).

And in only their second game for interim coach Gerad Parker, the Boilermakers will be trying to protect quarterback David Blough with a starting offensive line that will include sophomore Kirk Barron at center, redshirt freshman Matt McCann at right tackle and possibly freshman Michael Mendez at left tackle.

Keeping Penn State defensive ends Evan Schwan, Garrett Sickels and Torrence Brown away from Blough with a young offensive line will be a difficult task.

“It’s a great challenge, and I know the guys in the (offensive linemen) room are looking forward to it,” Barron said. “If this was a time to deal with adversity and we weren’t ready, we would crumble. Nebraska’s front was just as good. Penn State does a few different things, and they’re all good. They blitz a ton, so we need to be able to communicate well and make that something we are able to shut down.”

Here are some other things to watch in this game:

McSORLEY EFFECT

During Penn State’s three-game winning streak, quarterback Trace McSorley has been able to move the offense with his feet and his arm. He has at least 63 rushing yards and one touchdown in each of the past three games, totaling 858 total yards on the ground and in the air.

WHO’S GOING DEEP?

Penn State’s DeAndre Thompkins leads the team in deep targets and has caught five passes for 25 yards or more. But he left the Ohio State game after landing awkwardly and hard on his head and did not return. He is listed as a probable starter against Purdue, but Saeed Blacknall, who returned to action last week from a hand injury, could be the deep target if Thompkins can’t play.

MISSING PIECES

Purdue continues to be without starting offensive left tackle Martesse Patterson and backup defensive backs Brandon Roberts and David Rose, all of whom are suspended for conduct not in keeping with team rules. Patterson is suspended after being arrested in September for felony assault on his roommate and breaking the roommate’s jaw. Parker has not given specifics about what led to the Roberts and Rose suspensions other than to say they are still members of the team but are not practicing.

MEANINGFUL CALL

Parker said he was humbled on Monday when he received a call from Clemson coach Dabo Swinney congratulating Parker and his team for how well Purdue played in last week’s 27-14 loss at No. 7 Nebraska.

“He watched how hard we played, and for him to reach out and do that in a busy time for him and spend 26 minutes on the phone with me shows you why Clemson is where they are and why his guys believe in where he is,” Parker said.

SEEKING HOMEFIELD VICTORIES

While Penn State has lost seven consecutive road games, Purdue is 1-12 in its 13 most recent Big Ten home games, defeating only Nebraska 55-45 last season in West Lafayette.

The Boilermakers are 0-1 this season in Big Ten home games, losing to Iowa (49-35) on homecoming in a contest Purdue trailed 35-7 at halftime. Coach Darrell Hazell was fired the next day.