Boiler defensive backs Landon Feichter, Taylor Richards, Ricardo Allen and Josh Johnson are about to get tested as they haven't all season.
Are they ready?
We'll find out Saturday.
Marshall (2-2) will bring the nation's top-ranked passing attack behind quarterback Rakeem Cato into Ross-Ade Stadium. He throws often and he throws deep. His 1,481 passing yards are more than 100 more than anyone else has passed for this season. His 200 pass attempts rank second nationally behind Akron's Dalton Williams, who has thrown 201 times. His 10 touchdown passes rank second nationally.
Leading receiver Tommy Schuler has 32 catches for 334 yards and a touchdown, but he's not their most dangerous receiving threat. Aaron Dobson had 12 touchdown catches last season. He's banged up this year, but still has 29 catches for 313 yards and two TDs.
“(Dobson) is a great athlete,” coach Danny Hope said. “He has great size, runs well and has great hands. You can see him making great catches, circus catches. He has been their go-to guy the last couple of seasons, and rightfully so.
“They're loaded with talent and a lot of guys that we knew about in the recruiting process. They are a great passing team.”
Still, the fact the Thundering Herd also rushed for 344 yards in Saturday's 54-51 double overtime win against Rice suggests an offensive versatility Purdue (2-1) hasn't seen this season. That offense is run by Bill Legg, the former Purdue offensive line coach and offensive coordinator. He left the staff in 2008.
“They have the option to pass or run on any given play,” Hope said, “and they take what the defense gives them.
“If you give them opportunities to pitch the ball out on the perimeter, they do a good job with it. They can get the ball in playmakers' hands and they cash in on those opportunities. If you allow them to take advantage of the numbers in the box, they will run the ball at you.
“They're a hyper speed, up-tempo offense averaging 90 plays and over 500 yards a game, so we have to play well.”
Basically that means going after Cato early and often.
“Marshall does a good job of getting the ball out of his hands in a hurry,” Hope said. “They hang their hat on a quick-passing game. They don't give up many sacks, so you have to do things to be aggressive, disrupt their (offensive line) and get the quarterback out of sync.
“Disrupting the front and the line of scrimmage is the key focus. We have the personnel to do that.”
The Boilers certainly have the offensive personnel to attack a big-play vulnerable defense that allows 42.8 points a game. Rice's first five touchdowns against Marshall came from at least 30 yards. Opponents average 5.7 rushing yards a carry.
This is Purdue's last non-conference game before opening Big Ten play. Any unanswered questions?
“I think it's going to be a work in progress in a lot of ways,” Hope said. “I'm excited about our team because we have played pretty well. We're relatively healthy. If we continue to get better, we will be tough to beat.”
Purdue is generating votes in the national polls, but not enough to make the top 25. According to Hope, the Boilers are top-25 ready.
“If you look at our stats and numbers and how we compare to other teams in our league at this point, the competition has been comparable. We've played a top-10 team in Notre Dame, played them well and had a chance to win at their place. We've played some MAC-level teams and won big. We beat them like we're supposed to beat them.
“I think we're a top-25 team, and if we continue to improve, we'll certainly be a top-25 team.”
The last time Purdue was ranked was Oct. 1, 2007. The Boilers opened 5-0 that season under coach Joe Tiller, including a 33-19 win over Notre Dame, before finishing 8-5.