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
Purdue Boilermakers vs. Northwestern Wildcats: 3 things to watch
The Northwestern Wildcats look to continue a strong win streak as they take on an injured and struggling Purdue Boilermakers team at Ryan Field.
When: Sat. Nov. 11, 2017; 7 p.m. ET/6 p.m. CT
Where: Evanston, Ill.; Ryan Field (47,130)
All-Time Series: Purdue leads 50-30
Last Meeting: Northwestern won 45-17 (Nov. 12, 2016)
Line: Northwestern (-5)
The Northwestern Wildcats are in the College Football Player Top 25. Unbelievably it seemed after the way the team started the season. The Wildcats could barely block Nevada at times, let alone get to the quarterback. Those days seem a long way away.
A schedule that did not frontload the big games probably would have allowed the Wildcats to better prepare for those big games and maybe be in the Big Ten championship race.
Instead, Northwestern took its hits early. Then the team recovered. Overtime wins over Iowa and Michigan State look impressive now — especially considering those team’s big wins last week over Ohio State and Penn State. The Wildcats are starting to find a way to eke out wins. That is what the traditionally great Northwestern teams do.
The only “easy” win the Wildcats have had came on the road at Maryland. Then again, that Terrapins team is perhaps the only struggling team the Wildcats have played. Everything is a fight.
That will make the game against Purdue all that much more interesting.
The Boilermakers have put up some impressive stats this year. Coach Jeff Brohm has done some impressive things with that team. The Boilermakers are not the doormats they have been in years past. At long last, Purdue looks like it has a future.
But a lot of that seemed to come tumbling down when David Blough was lost for the year with a dislocated ankle. Blough had been impressive, throwing for 1,103 yards and nine touchdowns. His backup Elijah Sindelar has had experience in the game before, but it certainly will not be the same.
It will test what has turned into an extremely balanced Purdue offense.
Northwestern will have its work cut out for it yet again. The Wildcats hope to avoid another overtime game — they became the first team to win three straight overtime games with their win over the Cornhuskers. But the Boilermakers are going to make it hard. And Northwestern has never done well with the pressure of being ranked.
Here are three things to watch:
Building the pass attack against Northwestern
Northwestern’s stellar defense has a weakness that everyone seems to know about. The Wildcats give up 265.7 passing yards per game, 113th in the nation.
That does not mean there are not playmakers there. Kyle Queiro and Godwin Igwebuike have made some big plays in the pass game. And there are young guys still learning and getting their footing. But the teams have targeted the Wildcats’ secondary time and time again. Both Michigan State and Nebraska had big days against this pass attack.
To fans’ chagrin, Northwestern’s secondary has to play to protect and keep everything underneath. They are not going to give up too many big plays.
The Boilermakers have a solid pass attack and can make big plays. But Sindelar is not the passer and game manager that Blough is.
Sindelar has thrown for 939 yards on 80-for-150 passing. He has seven touchdowns against five interceptions. The Wildcats are going to have to keep his stats down and make defensive plays when they can. The opportunisim of this Northwestern defense will be on full display.
If Sindelar gets into a rhythm and starts picking apart Northwestern’s secondary, that could mean a long day for Northwestern.
Defensive line emergence
Along that same thought, Northwestern has changed itself largely becuase of the development of its defensive line.
Tyler Lancaster and Joe Gaziano anchored an inexperienced defensive line that struggled to generate any push early in the year. Now players like Samdup Miller are constantly in the backfield. Paddy Fisher has emerged at linebacker as a tackling machine. Northwestern’s defensive line has grown and stepped up.
The Wildcats are 12th in the nation in rushing defense. They force teams to become one dimensional — which both hurts and helps them. So once the run is stopped, the Wildcats have to get after the quarterback.
More and more, they are doing that.
Northwestern has 17 sacks so far this year. That probably does not account for all the pressures and quarterback hits the team has accumulated. Purdue is not great at protecting its quarterback — and there is a new quarterback there anyway. The Boilermakers have given up 22 sacks this year. And there is an OK run game to bolster it.
If Northwestern shuts the run game down, as it seems the team will do every week, the defensive line is going to have to get to the quarterback. Make Sindelar uncomfortable and the Wildcats should be able to get a win.
The Northwestern Wildcats always have to ask which Clayton Thorson will show up. Maybe that is not something the team should be asking of a three-year starter. But here we are.
Thorson can lead the Wildcats to some big drives and big wins. He has done that all year. Despite struggling mightily in the second half last week at Nebraska, he led the game-tying drive. And then won the game in overtime.
That has been Thorson’s m.o. all year. Moments of brilliance followed by moments of head-scratching immaturity. He believes in his ability too much at times and gets too timid at others. Thorson just has to play a smart game.
Purdue has only seven interceptions this year. The Boilermakers have not been great at forcing mistakes or getting turnovers. Those are the kinds of mistakes Thorson has to avoid for the Wildcats to win. Or win as comofotably as perhaps they should.
Thorson makes that big of a difference for the Wildcats. And if he gets into a rhythm with what Justin Jackson will surely do even against a solid Purdue defense, Northwestern should win.
Prediction: Northwestern 28, Purdue 17
Every Big Ten West division team’s biggest question following spring football
Spring camps are finished, what questions remain for teams in the Big Ten West division?
Michigan has arrived back in Ann Arbor, meaning spring football is finally and officially done across the Big Ten. College football’s annual rite of passage is also done, and there is plenty of curiosity to go around.
That means it is time to take stock of where things sit heading in to the summer workout sessions and the season ahead. It is also the perfect time to really dive deep in to what we did and didn’t see this spring.
Let’s start with the Big Ten West division, which had two new head coaches and another head coach with his first real spring camp in the books. Minnesota got the P.J. Fleck era under way and Purdue welcomed Jeff Brohm’s high-flying offensive attack to the division. Meanwhile, Illinois’ Love Smith finally got to run a full spring practice without rushing things.
Which teams answered questions, which ones have big-time questions to answer this fall? Let us take a look at every Big Ten West division teams’ biggest question post-spring football.
Every Big Ten West team’s biggest recruiting battle before national signing day
It seems like only yesterday that a Big Ten team was hoisting the national championship trophy, but we’re actually inching closer to the biggest day of the offseason — national signing day.
That means recruits are taking last-minute visits, coaches are crisscrossing the country to visit players and offers are going out on a nearly daily basis. To say these next few weeks will be crazy is a bit of an understatement, however the Big Ten is in on some major battles nationally and regionally as we head down the homestretch of the 205 recruiting cycle.
That means every team is putting out maximum effort to get the guys they want to sign to actually sign and fax in national letter of intent on the first Wednesday in February.
It also means that battles are heating up all over the country. Which battles are the Big Ten involved in? Let’s start by looking at the biggest battles for the Big Ten West.