It’s a mild surprise to peek at the B1G West standings and see Nebraska, Purdue and Illinois tied atop with matching 2-1 records. Minnesota and Northwestern sit at 1-1, while annual favorites Iowa and Wisconsin both are struggling, currently at the bottom of the division.

A pair of intra-division matchups will add some clarity to the race this week. Nebraska travels to West Lafayette to face a hot Boilermakers squad. Minnesota looks to regroup off a bye and previous loss to Purdue as it takes to the road to face Illinois.

Purdue enters the weekend having won back-to-back road contests at Minnesota and Maryland. Quarterback Aidan O’Connell is back healthy and playing at a high level. What will it take for the Huskers (14-point underdogs) to pull the upset?

Here are 3 things to keep an eye on that should have a major impact on the outcome.

1) Nebraska’s shaky O-line vs. Purdue’s rugged D-line

Nebraska’s offensive linemen performed very poorly in a narrow win at Rutgers last Friday. They allowed way too many free runs by the Scarlet Knights defensive line, and quarterback Casey Thompson took an unnecessary amount of punishment as a result. According to PFF (Pro Football Focus), 23 of Thompson’s 36 throws came while under heavy pressure.

Huskers coaches reiterated this week the need to clean up mistakes and improve communication. Head coach Mickey Joseph alluded to the fact changes may be coming. And they’ll keep searching until they find the right combination of 5 guys.

Left guard Ethan Piper lauded Thompson’s toughness and thanked him for hanging in against Rutgers. However, Purdue’s defense is a different animal. The Boilers have 13 TFLs the past 2 games and are 1 of only 5 FBS teams to allow only 1 rush of 20+ yards on the year. Moving the ball — especially running it — will be a huge challenge for Nebraska.

Purdue has depth along the defensive front and is giving up just 72.3 yards per game on the ground in B1G play. Kyrdan Jenkins and Khordae Sydnor have combined for 5.5 sacks.

In order for Nebraska to make any headway offensively, the offensive line must be significantly better. It has to provide Thompson a clean pocket. Purdue is without DB Chris Jefferson, who has 17 tackles, 5 pass break-ups and 2 INTs on the season. If Thompson has added time, the Huskers passing game could do damage.

2) Jeff Brohm’s play calling vs. Bill Busch’s improved D

Expect a chess match to ensue between Brohm and Nebraska DC Busch. The Huskers defense is arguably one of the most improved groups in the country over the past 3 weeks. A unit that was getting gashed for a plethora of yards and points under former DC Erik Chinander has found restored confidence and belief under Busch.

Brohm loves his playmakers, and Iowa transfer Charlie Jones has turned into the Boilers best one. Jones has tallied 603 yards on 50 catches while scoring 7 TDs. He’s been a thorn in the sides of defenses and will be a menace for Nebraska to contain. It will be worth watching to see if Busch plays more man coverage and tries to jam Jones at the line of scrimmage.

With Boilermakers QB Aidan O’Connell back slinging it at a 66.5% completion rate, Brohm will likely take a few deep shots against a young NU secondary. Rutgers picked on freshman CB Malcolm Hartzog a week ago. I fully expect Purdue to go after him as well.

Nebraska will try and bring pressure off the edge with Garrett Nelson and Ochaun Mathis. Purdue will need to be polished in its pass pro to give O’Connell time to find not only Jones, but a talented group of receivers in the passing game.

3) NU’s injury situation vs. Purdue’s injury situation

Both teams are likely to be missing some key players.

For Nebraska, linebacker Luke Reimer and cornerback Quinton Newsome are considered day-to-day after getting banged up at Rutgers. Reimer has a team-leading 49 tackles and is the key cog of the linebacking unit. If he’s out, it’s a huge blow.

Receiver Omar Manning is questionable after leaving the Rutgers game with an ankle injury. Manning provides another big-bodied receiver for the Huskers to target. His absence could pave the way for Tommi Hill to get his first snaps at receiver after starting the year on defense at corner.

Purdue will be without Jefferson, who is 4th on the team in tackles. The Boilermakers are already a tad thin in the secondary and Jefferson’s absence raises more concern.

Top running back Dylan Downing is expected to miss extended time with a foot injury. He’s No. 2 on the team with 249 yards on the season. Along with Downing, King Doerue, who started the first 2 games of the season, is also out with a calf injury. Purdue will be down to a trio (Devin Mockobee, Kobe Lewis, Tyrone Tracy) of backups at running back.

Finally, linebacker OC Brothers is expected to miss his 2nd straight game with a knee injury. The Auburn transfer started the Boilers first 5 games and is a playmaker for Ron English’s defense.

It’s the time of year where attrition is starting to show. Whichever team’s backups step up in those roles will go a long way to determining Saturday’s winner.