Since John Shoop and Greg Hudson are inexplicably still employed by Purdue University I feel like we're going into this game as well equipped as a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest. Facing a ranked opponent on the road is a daunting proposition at all times. Strangely, Hazell's teams have played better away from home. In all three road games this season the Boilers have trailed by only one possession late in the second half. In two of them they had the ball either leading or down three in the fourth quarter. It is pretty much the exact opposite of the Virginia Tech, Minnesota, and Illinois games where Purdue completely and utterly folded in the third quarter each time.
Purdue hasn't been to Evanston since 2010, which, coincidentally, marks the last time Purdue beat a ranked team on the road. In that game Rob Henry ran wild in a night game and the Purdue defense actually made plays late. Whither, Danny Hope, I guess.
Juan and I are going to this game, which is a testament to not drinking in Morgantown while Purdue is actually winning. We saw Purdue beating Nebraska 42-16, saw tickets were cheap and that it was a short drive, and decided, "why not?" As good as the Sgt. Bravo from people's Brewing is, it clearly leads to bad decisions.
At least I only spent $22 out of pocket for three tickets for my family.
So it is a football game and Purdue is required to. We are also contractually obligated through SB Nation to give a preview.
2015 Record: 7-2, 3-2 Big Ten
2014 Bowl result: None
Blog Representation: InsideNU
Series with Purdue: Purdue leads 50-28-1
Last Purdue win: 10/9/2010 at Northwestern 20-17
Last Northwestern win: 11/22/2014 at Purdue 38-14
Who to Watch on Offense
Justin Jackson - RB - Purdue just gave up 382 yards rushing to the worst rushing team in the Big Ten. Now they will face one of the league's best backs in Jackson, who is a solid 5'11" 190 pound sophomore. He already has 917 yards rushing on the season and will likely go over 1,000 for the second straight year on Saturday. He has just one rushing TD, however. Northwestern also gets him involved in the passing game with 146 yards on 18 receptions. If the Purdue defense plays as poorly as it did last week Jackson could easily go for 200 yards and four scores.
Clayton Thorsen - QB - The redshirt freshman QB came from the same class as our own David Blough and is a promising 4-star commit. He is also one of the more mobile quarterbacks we have faced with 312 rushing yards and 5 TDs. He was injured against Penn State, but is still expected to start this week. His production has been similar to Blough. He has completed 53% of his passes for 1,177 yards and 6TDs against 6 INTs. Overall, Northwestern does not light things up on offense. They only average 21 points per game and tend to run quite a bit more than they pass. As we saw against Illinois (and Minnesota. And Virginia Tech), however, the Purdue defense can make anyone look good.
Dan Vitale - WR - When the Wildcats do choose to pass it often goes to Vitale, who has 27 receptions for 316 yards and three scores. This should be an easier passing game to slow down for Purdue, but should is a very sketchy word to use when describing the Boilers.
Who to Watch on Defense
You have an excellent in Northwestern going against a lousy offense in Purdue. Even with a struggling offense the Wildcats have a significant edge because John Shoop is running things. The Wildcats rank 18th in total defense nationally, 9th against the pass, and 43rd against the run. Logic dictates that Markell Jones and whoever is backing him up right now should be the focus, but Shoop does not run on logic.
Anthony Walker - LB - Walker has been excellent this year with 77 tackles, two sacks, and a fumble recovery. He is only a sophomore too. In the last two games he has had 23 tackles and at duke he was in on an astounding 19 stops. He also has 13.5 tackles for loss, so he clearly flies to the ball.
Matthew Harris - CB - The junior corner has been pretty good with three interceptions and nine pass break ups.
Deonte Gibson - DL - Gibson leads the Wildcats with six sacks and he has 7.5 total tackles for loss. Against Michigan he was a menace with 2.5 sacks. As a team Northwestern is going to get after Blough. They have 19 sacks on the season and the pass defense has picked off 8 passes.
Who to Watch on Special Teams
Solomon Vault - KR - Should Purdue get lucky and actually score Vault can instantly erase all that hard work. He is averaging over 28 yards per return and has returned a pair of kicks for touchdowns, so we shouldn't kick the ball to him if we can help it.
Jack Mitchell - K - Mitchell is 15 of 21 on FG attempts and has hit from 49. Purdue is only three games away from going an entire Big Ten campaign without even attempting a field goal.
Do you trust the Purdue coaching staff? The answer, quite obviously, is no. It is one thing to get blown out in a road game at Cincinnati at the start of a major rebuild. It is something else entirely to get blown out at home by a mediocre Illinois team at home in game 33 for the current staff. Therein lies the frustration. There has been no real improvement across the board for Purdue. You have guys like DeAngelo Yancey and Cameron Posey who were promising freshmen two years ago still making the same mistakes they did back then.
The number 382 is absurd. Illinois was a terrible rushing team before last week. They got one, admittedly good, player back from injury and Purdue made them look like freaking Navy on the ground. The same issues in preparation, mistakes, tackling, and everything else that were problems in that Cincinnati game are STILL issues for Purdue. If anything, good, promising players are somehow getting worse.
Yes, on paper should be able to compete. Northwestern does not have a strong offense and that should be enough to keep the Boilers in it. They are still a very, very good football team. That season-opening win over Stanford looks great right now and there is no shame in losing to Iowa and Michigan. They shut out the same Minnesota team that ran wild on us and have a very good road win at Duke. They have every right to be favored by a lot in this game.