Jealous Iowa? Purdue 20, Northwestern 17

I have to admit, I didn't think Purdue had any chance to win this game. 60 ugly minutes later, the Boilers end up victorious and undefeated in the conference. This was a huge game for the Boilers' very slim bowl hopes. If the boys can take care of business next week against the Gophers and give the Hoosiers their usual Ross Ade reception, then we are one upset away from eligibility. Unfortunately, the easiest game of those is a trip to Illinois who just upset Penn State today. Still a win is a win, and this is one that the fanbase and the team desperately needed.

Before I get to the positives and negatives of the game, I'd like to present the Ed Hightower Award for Excellence in Officiating, to the line judge in charge of spotting the ball today. I don't know if he is a Northwestern alum, or working for the mafia, or visually impaired, but the guys in purple got more than a few favorable spots. You can't be too mad since there were a couple make up bad spots, unless you prefer a well called game. May he ride off into the sunset with Ed on a shimmering dragon. 

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via a323.yahoofs.com

Positives and negatives after the jump.

Positives-

 

  • Kawaan Short - 8 TKL, 1 Sack, 1 pass defended, 1 blocked FG - Short's blocked FG turned out to be the difference maker in the game. His sack came on a big 3rd down play, and he was generally great at being disruptive to the Northwestern offense. The entire defensive line was pretty dominant today, but Short was the standout. He had a key block on Evans' sack and Holland's sack as well. 
  • Rob Henry - 16 rushes, 132 yards, 1 TD - Henry was finding holes, hitting them, and burning through. The offensive line played very well, since Purdue gained 232 yards on 42 rushes. The lion's share of that went to the freshman quarterback, who even turned out a stumbling 67 yard long rush. He ran pretty well in his debut as the Boilers starter. We will be coming back to him later...
  • Special Teams - shockingly not a huge liability today - The return coverage was solid, and Boilers came up with some big turnovers on special teams. Not only did they block the tying kick, but Albert Evans' big fumble recovery on the muffed punt set up what turned out to be the difference making FG. It has been the first time that Gibboney reminded us why he gets paid. Of course it helped that Northwestern played poorly on special teams, but for once it was another team losing in that phase of the game.
  • Pass rush in general - 5 sacks - Northwestern got crushed in the trenches on both sides of the ball. We got great pressure from the front 4 all day, we had effective blitzing, and we held them to 2 yds/carry on rushing. Can't ask for much more from the defensive front seven.
Negatives
  • Rob Henry - 6/18, 47 yards, 1 INT - Henry played well overall in his debut, but those numbers tell the whole story about the passing game. It was so bad that even when the Boilers would come out in a 5 wide formation, Northwestern would still put 7 in the box (the worst part about that scheme was that Purdue was often running from that formation). The passing game was so bad that playcalling became very predictable. His interception was a very poor decision. For a freshman in his first start this is forgivable, but numbers like that aren't going to lead to wins against more potent offenses in the Big Ten. 
  • Pass defense - The secondary was, again, the weakest point of the Boiler's defense. They kept the Wildcats out of the endzone but allowed some big gains, including 14 passing first downs (we had 2). Evans and Link played well at safety, but I can't remember any of the corners being a huge factor in the game. 
  • Wide Receivers - Part of the ineffectiveness of the passing game rests on the shoulders of Henry,  but there were more than a few balls that should have been caught and ended up dropped. Obviously, the wide outs aren't yet in sync with Henry, but I expected better against a not-so-good Northwestern defense coming off of an extra week of practice and prep.
  • Tight Ends - Not to belabor the passing game, but tight ends need to be a young quarterback's best friends. Lindsay and Adams combined for 2 catches and 19 yards. Again, they looked out of sync with Henry, and took away a lot of the check down throws that Henry should have been making rather than pulling it down and running. There will need to be more production from the entire receiving corps if this team has any chance at bowl eligibility.
  • 3rd Down Efficiency and Red Zone Offense - 3/13 on 3rd down - Finally, the abysmal third down conversion rate and not great red zone offense can be attributed to the playcalling. Hope was so afraid to pass the ball that Purdue was rushing on 3rd and long and settling for field goals from short range rather than trying to strike for a touchdown. Statistically speaking, the Boilers got dominated in this game, falling behind in every category but the score. That can be traced directly back to the passing game. You could say that Purdue stole this game by dominating the line of scrimmage, but it makes me wonder how many more games like that the Boilers can win. As we get to the better teams in the Big Ten, Purdue isn't going to be able to just pound the ball with Henry and run on every down.
In the end, the Boilers reminded us today that the season isn't over, despite that loss to Toledo. If they can get an upset against a (sort of) ranked team on the road, who is to say that they can't get one more? This week should be an interesting test. Minnesota is a very similar team to Northwestern, as evidenced by their close game last week. We should see an improved passing game and more aggressive playcalling, especially at home in front of the homecoming crowd. If there isn't quite a bit of improvement, this could be a long stretch heading into a 5 game murderer's row of at Ohio State, at Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, and at Michigan State. Some improvement against Minnesota will give me hope that Purdue can be at least competitive in one of those games. Until then Boiler up, and see you at homecoming!
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