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Northwestern at Purdue Preview

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Last season Purdue hung tough in Evanston, giving them hope for an upset this week.

Purdue v Northwestern Photo by David Banks/Getty Images

Each week I try to at least think about something positive and how Purdue can win a football game. The Boilers have now lost four in a row since upsetting Illinois in Champaign, but in three of those games they were the better team in the first half. Sure, the second halves have been a disaster in getting outscored 80-10, but since Darrell Hazell was fired Purdue has at least LOOKED better.

Will that make a difference in terms of actually winning a football game? We’ll see. Saturday may be the best chance remaining Purdue has at capturing an elusive win. Northwestern comes in with an offense that has struggled at times, but they still have played some good teams close. Their defense often does not give up a lot, but they are not a brick wall. Also, Purdue played them dead even for most of last season’s game in Evanston. This is a winnable game if Purdue can find a way to finish.

2015 Record: 10-3, 6-2 Big Ten

Bowl result: Lost to Tennessee 45-6 in Outback Bowl

Blog Representation: InsideNU

Series with Purdue: Purdue leads 50-29-1

Last Purdue win: 10/9/2010 at Northwestern 20-17

Last Northwestern win: 11/14/2015 at Northwestern 21-14

Northwestern Thus Far:

The season could not have started worse for Northwestern. They lost their season opener at home 22-21 to Western Michigan, then had a disastrous 9-7 home loss to FCS Illinois State. The Redbirds have since fallen off and are a meager 5-5 near the bottom of the Missouri Valley standings. It looked like a winless season was a real possibility, but they have recovered to beat Duke, Iowa, Michigan State, and Indiana. Iowa is the best win over those four, while they also had a very close loss at Ohio State.

Northwestern enters having lost two in a row, but both were to top 10 teams in Ohio State and Wisconsin. They have a pretty strong defense but a somewhat inconsistent offense. They are a bit of an odd team in that they can struggle with the likes of Illinois State, but they can also play well enough to almost upset Ohio State in Columbus. I suppose that is a good thing for Purdue since we’re at the bottom of the spectrum, but we’ll see.

Who to Watch on Offense

Justin Jackson – RB – As is typical, Purdue needs to watch out for the stud running back that can go off for 200 yards on a moment’s notice. Last week it was Rodney Smith. Two weeks ago it was Saquon Barkley. Now it is Jackson, who ran for 116 yards and a TD against Purdue last season. With 90 yards total in the last three games Jackson will have his third consecutive 1,000 yard season. He is already 4th on the school’s all-time rushing list and could easily be second by the end of the season. If he returns for his senior season he will likely become their all-time leading rusher. This year he also has 6 touchdowns, but was limited to 42 rushing yards by Wisconsin.

Clayton Thorson – QB – Thorson also has 127 yards and 4 TDs on the ground, but through the air he has been efficient. He has 2,219 yards and 16 touchdowns against only six interceptions. The sophomore QB has greatly improved this year, upping his completion percentage to 56.6% and cutting down on his interceptions. His best game was 320 yards and 3 TDs against Duke.

Austin Carr – WR – Like Minnesota last week, Northwestern has a clear primary option on almost every passing play. Austin Carr is leading the Big Ten in receptions (70), yardage (1,010), and touchdowns (10). He is almost certain to be a First Team all-Big Ten selection when the season is over, and at 6’1” 200 pounds he can out-muscle smaller corners. Against Wisconsin he caught a season high 12 passes for 132 yards and a TD against a much better defense.

Who to Watch on Defense

Godwin Igwebuike – S – The senior safety plays all over the field, notching 79 tackles and even getting 5.5 of those tackles for loss. He has an interception to go with a team high six pass breakups too.

Ifeadi Odenigbo – DE – The defensive end is one of the Big Ten’s best with a league-leading 8 sacks and 10 total tackles for loss. The sacks have not helped a ton, however, as Northwestern boasts the Big Ten’s worst pass defense at 260.1 yards per game against Purdue’s Big Ten leading passing offense at 314.2 yards per game. For once Purdue has a significant advantage to exploit!

Anthony Walker Jr. – LB – Walker is a solid and experienced linebacker with 68 tackles, 6 for loss, and a pair of sacks. He is good at getting into the backfield with 6 quarterback hits, a team high.

Who to Watch on Special Teams

Solomon Vault – KR – Vault is a top return man averaging 28.40 yards per return. He also has a kick return for a touchdown.

Hunter Niswander – P – Niswander is a good punter with a 42.30 yard average and 16 of 62 downed inside the 20.

Game Outlook

The Purdue passing game should be able to move the ball. Northwestern is the worst team in the conference at defending the pass by a wide margin. Will the passing game be helped by healthy running backs that can establish even a modest ground game? Northwestern only gives up 146.9 yards per game on the ground, but Purdue has struggled great to crack even 50 in the last three games. Purdue is going to have to get more on the ground somehow to win this.

Purdue’s own defense will be tested by Jackson and Carr. Carr is going to get his yards. He has gone off on just about everyone else this season. Jackson can at least be somewhat slowed and Purdue must account for Carr on third downs. Those two players are the primary ballcarriers and they get the vast majority of offensive touches.

Don’t be surprised at this point if Purdue is at least competitive for a half if not three quarters. As we have seen, however, teams have been beating the crap out of us in the second halves of games. Purdue must find a way to turn that around or we’re going to have another long Saturday afternoon.