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Purdue at Northwestern Preview

Northwestern’s offense is atrocious, so is that enough for Purdue to steal a road win?

NCAA Football: Northwestern at Indiana Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

This one could get very ugly. On one side, you have a Northwestern offense that is completely averse to scoring points. That’s only kind of important in football. There are 130 teams in Division I FBS football. There is one that does not average at least 10 points per game, and it is Northwestern. Even Rutgers is getting pity touchdowns and put up lots of points against Liberty and UMass. Northwestern hasn’t scored a touchdown in over a month and they have just 78 points total all season long.

On the other side you have Purdue. Only one team in the country is worse at running the football, the winless Akron Zips. Since the running game is often the crutch for the inexperienced quarterback that doesn’t bode well for Aidan O’Connell. O’Connell is a talented guy, but he is player that when he arrived at Purdue most people never thought he would get more than token snap or two in a game, let alone start one. With Purdue’s top three projected scholarship quarterbacks out, however, O’Connell will get the call and the chance to shine against a defense that is still relatively strong. That defense can only do so much with a putrid offense.

Purdue has not beaten Northwestern in nine years, but even with O’Connell playing this is still a golden chance to get a second win in a row, end the losing streak to the Wildcats, and have some momentum going into the bye week.

2018 Record: (9-5, 8-1 Big Ten West) Big Ten West Champions

Bowl Result: Beat Utah 31-20 in Holiday Bowl

Blog Representation: InsideNU

Series with Purdue: Purdue leads 50-32-1

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

Last Northwestern win: 31-27 at Purdue on 8/30/2018

Head Coach: Pat Fitzgerald (97-77 in 14th season at Northwestern)

2019 so far for Northwestern

It is safe to say that this season has been a disaster after winning the Big Ten West a year ago. The Wildcats have had a pretty good defense, but an abysmal offense has been their downfall. They actually scored 30 points in a 30-14 win over UNLV, but in the other seven games, all losses, they have scored just 48 points. That’s less than a touchdown per game. That’s seven games against Power 5 competition (6 Big Ten games plus Stanford) and their best game was 15 points in a 24-15 loss at Wisconsin.

This team simply cannot score points. At all. It is 126th in the nation in passing at 124.3 yards per game. The four teams it is better than: Army, Navy, Air Force, and Georgia Southern, are all triple option teams that do not even try to pass most games. They do not have a solid rushing attack to fall back on, as they average 133.8 yards per game on the ground.

To me, it is an indictment of Purdue’s defense if it gives up more than 20 in this game. Northwestern is flat out awful offensively. We have seen enough to know this. Yes, they have played some good defenses in Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Iowa, but they also could not move the ball against Indiana, Stanford, and Nebraska.

Who to Watch on Offense

Drake Anderson – RB – The redshirt freshman has been the best option to move the ball with 447 yards rushing and 3 touchdowns, but that is not great. He is at 4.5 yards per carry and can at least be somewhat effective, but he is not a guy they can give the ball to 30 times for 150 yards.

Aidan Smith – QB – Either Smith of former 5-star QB Hunter Johnson will get the start, but both have struggled. Johnson has missed time due to family issues and his struggles on the field have been well-documented. Both have completed only 47% of their passes for 500 yards or less. Each has a single touchdown pass, as Northwestern has only two TDs through the air. This is against a combined 11 interceptions.

Riley Lees – WR – Lees leads the team with 28 receptions for 192 yards, while JJ Jefferson has 12 receptions for 155 yards and both touchdowns. Jefferson has been out of late, depriving the Wildcats of one of their few weapons. The offensive line has also given up 19 sacks, too. Northwestern basically lacks a passing game at the moment, so a breakout day is an indictment of Purdue.

Who to Watch on Defense

Blake Gallagher – LB – Gallagher leads the team in tackles with 65, but only has a pass defensed with no tackles for loss. With Paddy Fisher they have a decent run defense, but they do not cause turnovers. Northwestern is actually behind Purdue in turnover margin at -10.

Travis Whitlock – DB – Whitlock is second on the team with 62 tackles, but as a team they have only two interceptions. The pass defense is right in the middle of the Big Ten, while the run defense is 10th, just ahead of Purdue.

Joe Gaziano – DL – Gaziano leads the team with 5.5 sacks, which is a concern given the lack of mobility that O’Connell has. Northwestern can get to the quarterback a bit with 15 sacks on the season. He has also forced three fumbles and recovered two. In a game where points will be at a premium, a Gaziano sack and strip deep in Purdue territory could be a game changer.

Who to Watch on Special Teams

Charlie Kuhbander – K – If the Wildcats can get in range, Kuhbander is a good one. He is 8 of 10 on field goals this year and 6 of 6 on extra points. Yes, he has only been out to kick 6 extra points because Northwestern has only 8 touchdowns.

Daniel Kubiuk – P – Northwestern does not get much in the way of field position, as Kubiuk is one of the worst punters in the conference. Purdue is one of the worst teams in the conference at returning punts though.

Game Outlook

To me, it is an indictment of Purdue’s defense if it gives up more than 20 in this game. Northwestern is flat out awful offensively. We have seen enough to know this. Yes, they have played some good defenses in Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Iowa, but they also could not move the ball against Indiana, Stanford, and Nebraska.

I think this comes down to “Can O’Connell get us 20 points?” If he can, I feel like that is enough because we have weeks and weeks of Northwestern’s offense just being terrible. The wild card, of course, is turnovers. Both of these teams turn it over a lot, and depending on where those occur, it can be a huge difference. Last week Nebraska had a drive start at the Purdue 2-yard line. Yes, Purdue held for a field goal, but even a bad offense like Northwestern can stumble into a touchdown given that short of a field.

I am going to be very disappointed if the Purdue defense gives up more than 20 points here. We saw that O’Connell has talent last week and he showed a lot of poise in leading the game-winning drive. Because of that, I think he can get us more than 20 points.

In case you’re wondering, Purdue has not shut out an opponent since Southeast Missouri State 58-0 in 2011, hasn’t shut out an FBS level opponent since Syracuse 51-0 in 2004, and hasn’t had a road or Big Ten shutout since 35-0 at Northwestern in 1981.