Yesterday our friends at InsideNU ran my answers to their questions over at their site. Today we have Caleb Friedman returning the favor here.
T-Mill: It is a battle of previously injured quarterbacks. Clayton Thorson looks like he is probably going to play and Purdue has either Elijah Sindelar (knee) or David Blough (ankle). Who would you rather see as an opponent, Blough or Sindelar?
Caleb: Sindelar threw for 376 yards last season against Northwestern, while Blough has thrown four picks in two games against the Wildcats. Plus, Sindelar has the better arm strength and deep ball ability, which could pose trouble for a Northwestern team breaking in two new starting safeties. For those reasons, I’d rather see Blough.
T-Mill: Purdue had a lot of breakout performances last year in the likes of Jared Sparks (11 catches 130 yards), and Sindelar (376 passing yards), but the running game was stuffed. How does the run defense look this year?
Caleb: Northwestern’s front seven should be the strongest area of the team, but its biggest run-stuffer on the defensive line last season -- defensive tackle Tyler Lancaster -- is gone this season. NU doesn’t have a ton of size on the interior D-line, but the defensive ends should be both strong and deep. Paddy Fisher and Nate Hall are two of the Big Ten’s more disruptive linebackers, and will be tough again. Because there’s more speed and athleticism than there is size on the D-line, it’ll probably be easier to run on Northwestern down the middle, as opposed to the outsides. The run defense should be good overall, though.
T-Mill: Even if Thorson plays, what do you expect? Is he 100%?
Caleb: First of all, I would be totally shocked if Thorson doesn’t play. The program has been excitedly Tweeting videos of him running and playing in practice, which would be an odd move if he was going to miss the opener. There’s no way to definitively know whether he’ll be 100 percent, but his game isn’t really predicated on running and cutting, so as long as he’s close to full strength, he should be good to go. Based on everything we’ve heard from Thorson, his coaches and his teammates, he feels great. Now, that doesn’t mean he’ll play super well, but I expect him to be healthy.
T-Mill: We’re still getting used to this “Big Ten Thursday night conference opener” thing. Is it good for both teams to start with such an important game?
Caleb: I think in general, more exposure is better for schools like Northwestern and Purdue. Northwestern has started the past two seasons slowly, though, so that might not bode so well. But, I think it’s a benefit to play on Thursday to open the season because you get two extra days to prepare for Week 2, and those two days probably help a lot more for Week 2 than they hurt for Week 1 after an entire offseason of preparation.
It’s definitely weird to open with a Big Ten game, and it would hurt a lot to lose a division game to start the season, so the stakes are high. For that reason, this game will get a lot more hype as the opener than it probably would in the middle of the season.
T-Mill: Who picks up the slack on the ground with Justin Jackson gone?
Caleb: Northwestern has a bunch of talented backs that will contribute, but Jeremy Larkin will be the featured back. It’s funny, Northwestern lost its all-time leading rusher in Jackson, and nobody is really worried about the running back position, and that’s because of how impressive Larkin was in limited action last season. He rushed for over 500 yards on six yards per carry last season, and provided big plays in key moments on several occasions. Larkin doesn’t have the same make-you-miss jump cuts that Jackson perfected in Evanston, but he might be faster than Jackson. He’ll need to prove he’s durable enough to handle the wear and tear of the Big Ten, but he’s poised to have a breakout season.
T-Mill: How do you see this one playing out?
Caleb: I think it’ll be a pretty close game, but I’ll take Northwestern. Pat Fitzgerald has proved he’s savant at pulling out wins in close games, and Thorson’s experience gives NU an advantage.