Receivers take center stage in Rutgers at Purdue
Cross-divisional Big Ten Conference foes Rutgers and Purdue meet Saturday at Ross-Ade Stadium, both coming off heartbreaking losses.
Purdue (2-2, 2-2 Big Ten) lost in controversial fashion at divisional counterpart Minnesota last week, 34-31. Quarterback Jack Plummer found tight end Payne Durham for what appeared to be a go-ahead touchdown with 52 seconds left, but an offensive pass interference call negated the play.
Boilermakers coach Jeff Brohm’s vocal objection to the call and subsequent, private interactions with conference officials in the days since still linger. Purdue seeks to avoid letting the disappointment bleed into another week against visiting Rutgers.
“It’s over with and we moved on,” Brohm said in his Tuesday press conference.
The Boilermakers have another hurdle to overcome as well. Purdue announced Tuesday that sophomore defensive end George Karlaftis has tested positive for COVID-19 and has been placed in quarantine. The former five-star recruit has four tackles and two sacks through three games this season.
Purdue is trying to snap a two-game losing streak, with the two defeats coming by a combined 10 points.
The Scarlet Knights (1-4, 1-4) dropped their fourth straight, losing in three overtimes to Michigan on Saturday night. Despite the losing skid, Rutgers has made strides in the first year of Greg Schiano’s second stint with the program.
Last season, Rutgers lost all nine of its Big Ten games by at least 21 points. Its losses the last two weeks to Illinois and Michigan were by a combined nine points.
“They play an attacking, aggressive style of defense. They don’t give up easy completions,” Brohm said. “Coach Schiano has those guys playing very, very hard.”
Schiano turned the longtime cellar dweller of the old Big East Conference into a contender during his first tenure there, most notably winning 11 games in 2006. His staff has aimed to recapture some of what made Rutgers successful during that stretch, starting with a consistent pass rush.
Mohamed Toure comes in with three sacks, most on the team and tied for seventh among all Big Ten players. The Scarlet Knights have also made considerable strides on offense, improving from 13.2 points per game last year — second-fewest in the nation — to 29.6 points per game in 2020.
“(Coordinator) Sean Gleeson and the offensive staff have done a good job accentuating the positives and limiting whatever negatives we have,” Schiano said at his weekly press conference.
Schiano had particular praise for wide receiver Bo Melton, who enters with 27 receptions for 443 yards and five touchdowns.
Receivers on both sides will take center stage on Saturday. Purdue features Rondale Moore, the 2017 freshman of the year and coveted NFL draft prospect initially opted out of the truncated 2020 season, but made his return last week to catch 15 passes for 116 yards.
“He’s one of the fastest, most explosive players in college football, period,” Schiano said of Moore.
Moore’s return adds more firepower to a passing offense ranked No. 16 nationally at 320.8 yards per game. Plummer, who stepped in for Aidan O’Connell last week, completed 35-of-42 attempts for 367 yards and three touchdowns.
In Moore’s absence, David Bell emerged as a reliable No. 1 option for the Boilermakers. He has 39 receptions for 425 yards and six touchdowns in four games.
–Field Level Media