When: Sat. Nov. 12, 2016; 12 p.m. ET
Where: West Lafayette, Ind.; Ross-Ade Stadium (57,236)
All-Time Series: Purdue leads 50-29-1
Last Meeting: Northwestern won 21-14 (2015)
Line: Northwestern (-13.5)
Momentum is a funny thing in the course of a football season. With just one game every week, teams build momentum simply by winning. Everything is great when they win and everything is bad when they lose.
The three weeks where Northwestern’s offense was humming and pushing the pace, spreading the ball around to different receivers was a time when Northwestern seemed like it could stand up to the world. The team did against Ohio State for four quarters.
Then they lost at Columbus. Then their offense got dominated against the Badgers. And the doubt creeped in. This was a team that scored only seven points against Illinois State in Week Two after all. That team still exists as inefficient and one dimensional as a team can be.
Wisconsin brought that back out. In one week, the good feelings and confidence engendered in a month were seemingly wiped away. And only questions remain.
How will the Wildcats respond?
The Boilermakers have had to answer that question too at various points this season. Purdue fired Darrell Hazell and had to rally around their new identity. Whatever that was. Purdue has found some offensive life again, but continues to give up a lot defensively. Interim coach Gerad Parker has yet to pick up his first win.
Purdue has found an offensive identity and can keep pace with defenses with clear weaknesses. That is the Boilermakers’ new lot in life. Purdue is still trying to eke out something for this season and give some hope for whatever the team’s future holds.
1 Burning Question: Who is going to stop the pass?
Both Purdue and Northwestern have slowly developed into strong passing teams. It is where both teams have found some strength heading into the final weeks of the season.
It is also the one thing neither can defend.
Northwestern gives up 260 passing yards per game and is down a ton of cornerbacks. Their young secondary usually plays off receivers, hoping to rally to the ball to make stops. It can become easy to pick up chunks of yards if offenses stay patient underneath.
Purdue too gives up 203 passing yards per game. The Boilermakers gave up 231 passing yards to the Golden Gophers in a loss. They have the 97th best passing defense in the country according to Football Outsiders.
And no one has stopped Austin Carr this year — not even Wisconsin.
The Wildcats will have better run balance and try to tear up the Boilermakers’ run defense. It is likely the difference in the game. But this is also a chance for Clayton Thorson to gain some confidence.
Northwestern will have to get a good pass rush and speed up David Blough to protect their ailing secondary and keep Purdue’s score low.
2 Key Stats
–43.7: That is the number of pass attempts Clayton Thorson has thrown in conference losses this year. In wins, he has thrown 36 per game. The Wildcats cannot win without Thorson being accurate. But they also struggle to win when he has to throw the ball too much. Purdue’s run defense is porous and so the Wildcats should be able to keep that number down.
–359.8: That is the average passing yards for Purdue quarterback David Blough in the last four games, since Hazell was fired. Blough has really begun to blossom into a strong quarterback, throwing for 13 touchdowns and four interceptions. Purdue’s offense certainly has picked up since that time. But the Boilermakers also have not won a game yet.
3 Key Players
–Justin Jackson (Northwestern RB): Justin Jackson was quiet in the loss to Wisconsin. In fact, Northwestern almost went completely away from him. He rushed just 13 carries for 42 yards. It was his second straight game with fewer than 20 carries. To say the least, Northwstern is better when its All-Big Ten running back gets the ball. Expect a steady diet Saturday.
–DeAngelo Yancey (Purdue WR): The Boilermakers are not going to be afraid to pass. And against Northwestern’s weakened secondary, who could blame them? DeAngelo Yancey will be the primary target. He has 683 yards on 34 catchese, averaging more than 20 yards per catch. His big play ability will be something Northwestern has to watch for.
–Joe Gaziano (Northwestern DE): Ifeadi Odenigbo has stolen all the headlines, but Gaziano has been a workhorse coming from the other edge with some big hits and sacks of his own. After two weeks going up against Ohio State and Wisconsin in back-to-back weeks, the Northwestern defensive line could be hungry to get back on track. Gaziano will gladly take the hole opened up from the attention Odenigbo is given.
4 Staff Predictions
Andy: Northwestern 31-21
Dave: Northwestern 45-24
Phil H.: Northwestern 34-30
Philip R-R: Northwestern 34-24
Zach: Northwestern 28-20