Now that we have gone through our offseason previews it is time to take a closer look at Purdue’s football opponents. Who better to go to than their respective bloggers. Over the next few weeks I have lined up a Q&A with an opposing blogger for all 12 Purdue opponents.
Let’s kick things off with Davis Rich from InsideNU.
T-Mill: The biggest question is, of course, Clayton Thorson. Is he going to be ready? Who likely plays if he is not?
Davis: Northwestern has kept its cards very close to the chest when it comes to Thorson. In short, we have no idea if Thorson is going be ready for August 30. At Big Ten Media Day, Pat Fitzgerald said that there was no timeline for Thorson’s return, but that Aug. 30 is “certainly the goal.” It seems like Thorson’s recovery is going to plan-- he said he has no physical limitations and that he’s been cleared for “everything in camp.” With that being said, Northwestern has to prepare for the possibility that Thorson can’t go against Purdue. His replacement will be someone who has played zero meaningful collegiate snaps. TJ Green, Aidan Smith, and Andrew Marty will battle it out for the backup role, and it doesn’t seem like one guy has separated himself yet. Wildcat fans have to hope that Thorson will be ready to go, because the learning curve will be steep for whoever needs to replace him.
T-Mill: Northwestern just lost a great back in Justin Jackson. Is he a bigger loss than potentially Thorson and how does Northwestern replace him?
Davis: Things actually look pretty good at running back. The backup last season was Jeremy Larkin, who carried 84 times for 503 yards and five touchdowns. Larkin showed great vision, elusiveness, and speed, and Northwestern should be very excited about the redshirt sophomore. Justin Jackson’s production, durability, and consistency were incredible, and he had to overcome what was a weak offensive line the past couple seasons. Larkin, however, will not be asked to carry the ball 20-25 times a game like Jackson did during his four years at Northwestern because the Wildcats have a solid group of backups behind Larkin. We don’t really know how Larkin’s durability will stack up as compared to Jackson, but Larkin seems every bit as capable of producing as Northwestern’s lead back.
T-Mill: Let’s talk facilities! How does the new lakefront facility measure up to Purdue’s new facility?
Davis: I’m going to come off as biased here. I’ve never been to the Purdue facility, but I just watched a couple videos and it looks pretty sweet-- awesome indoor practice field, huge weight room. Still, you can’t beat Northwestern’s new lakeside facility. Ryan Fieldhouse is in a perfect setting on Lake Michigan, with unbelievable views and an expansive new weight room. Call me a homer, but advantage, Northwestern.
T-Mill: Defensively Northwestern’s secondary needs some work. Does this give Purdue an advantage after Sindelar did pretty well last year?
Davis: The secondary is probably the biggest question mark for Northwestern besides offensive line. Northwestern has to replace both its starting safeties as well as one of its better cornerbacks. The Wildcats have some talented safeties in Jared McGee and J.R. Pace who will step into the starting roles, but the depth is very thin behind them. Northwestern had a scourge of injuries in the defensive backfield last year, and if that trend continues, the Wildcats are going to have to trot out some very inexperienced safeties. At cornerback, Montre Hartage returns as one of the better cover guys in the conference, but the team is thin beyond him. If Purdue is going to take advantage of Northwestern somewhere, it will definitely be through the air.
T-Mill: This game may be a No. 1 contender’s match for who can challenge Wisconsin int he West. Does Northwestern have what it needs to topple the Badgers?
Davis: Northwestern is always looking to take down Wisconsin, but I think there are too many “ifs” this year. I’m worried about Thorson’s health, the offensive line, and the holes in the secondary. Northwestern’s front seven could be the best front seven in the Big Ten West, but if other teams can get the ball out quick, the Wildcat defense will be exposed. While Northwestern gets the Badgers at home, Wisconsin is going to be very good again and I don’t think this year is the year. I hope to be proven wrong.
T-Mill: Finally, how do you see this game playing out?
Davis: Should Thorson play, I think Northwestern will take this game by a single possession. It seems like Purdue is replacing a lot of its best defenders from last year, and I don’t expect the kinks to be worked out right away. Meanwhile, Northwestern should have one of the best run defenses in the Big Ten, and a very disruptive front seven to boot. Two things worry me-- Elijah Sindelar’s arm, and Northwestern’s recent propensity to fall flat on its face during the first few weeks of the season. Still, with Thorson under center, I think the Wildcats are a better team. If Thorson is out, it could be a long night in West Lafayette for the Wildcats.