Football is back again this week and Purdue has a date with Northwestern in PRIMETIME BABY!
I’ve done my best to temper my excitement two games into the season, but a win against the Wildcats could put the Boilermakers on an exciting trajectory. Of course, winning is the key word in the above sentence, and Purdue has struggled with the Northwestern under Jeff Brohm.
I originally set out to put all the stats in a single article, but that got prohibitively long, and I wanted to get some information out today. Last season, Purdue squeaked out a 2 point win over a truly putrid Northwestern squad, but these aren’t your 2019 Wildcats. An injection of talent at the quarterback position has helped stabilize the offense. Northwestern can throw the ball just enough to keep the opposition somewhat honest, and that’s all they need with a suffocating defense and bruising running game.
Let’s take a look at how Northwestern has turned their passing game around this season.
This is a weird year for stats. Raw numbers don’t work nationally because different conferences have played different numbers of games. I can show you percentages on a national level, but will be keeping everything else inside the Big10 (which still isn’t perfect).
Peyton Ramsey - 50/75 - 66.7%
Big10 Rank - 5th
National Rank - 27th
Peyton Ramsey - 511
Big10 Rank - 10th
Passing Yards / Game
Peyton Ramsey - 170.3
Big10 Rank - 12th
National Rank - 86th
Peyton Ramsey - 3
Big10 Rank - 11th
Peyton Ramsey - 3
Big10 Rank - 5th
Peyton Ramsey - 129.1
Big10 Rank - 11th
After a revolving door at the quarterback position in 2019, Coach Fitzgerald hit the transfer market and landed Indiana refugee Peyton Ramsey. We’re all familiar with Peyton’s work. He’s an average/below average passer at his best when he can move outside the pocket and extend plays.
The only passing category Northwestern does well in is completion percentage, and that makes sense for Ramsey. He doesn’t have a huge arm, but he is accurate in the short/intermediate passing game. His job is to get the ball out quickly and keep the chains moving. Northwestern wants to control the time of possession and let their defense win games. This is the perfect role for Ramsey.
Other than completion percentage, Ramsey and Northwestern are close to the bottom of the Big10 in every other passing category. A 1/1 TD/INT ratio is...less than ideal and 170 yards a game looks more like an offense from the 1980’s than 2020, but it gets the job done. The Wildcats won’t beat you with their passing game, but they will use it to keep their offense on the field so they can beat you with their running game.
What It Means For Purdue
This is a tough match-up for Bob Diaco’s “bend don’t break” defense, because Northwestern wants to bend you on defense. For some teams, time of possession doesn’t mean much, but it’s everything for the Wildcats. They want to grind you down, keep their defense fresh, and play the game in the 20’s. It’s been effective for them thus far.
Purdue’s defense is going to have to find ways to get off the field on 3rd down and that means putting Northwestern in passing situations. I expect Diaco to devote significant resources to stopping the run. Look for an extra safety in the box on early downs to try and contain the Wildcat ground attack. Diaco’s job is to prevent big plays, and he’s done a solid job of that so far this year, but this is the first true road grader team he’ll face. It’ll be interesting to see how he adjusts his game plan when playing a team that has no intention of creating big plays.
When Northwestern is in a passing down, it’s imperative that Purdue maintain their rush lanes. Ramsey wants you to rush up the field so he can step underneath, escape the pocket and either run or complete something easy for a first down. This requires discipline from the defensive line, and especially the defensive ends. This isn’t a game where you go out and try and set the sack record on your own, because that’s what Northwestern wants. Instead, the defensive ends need to keep him in the pocket, set the edge, and be patient. He’s going to try and break containment and will run himself into sacks.
Speaking of sacks, when the opportunity arises, Purdue has to get him on the ground. Ramsey is a strong dude (6’2, 220) who won’t go down with an arm tackle. Purdue defenders must break down and tackle with form, otherwise they’ll be shrugged off and Northwestern will be on their way to another first down.
If Purdue sells out to stop the run, the Northwestern passing game should have more room to operate. Look for short to intermediate routes with Wildcat receivers settling into voids in Purdue’s zone defense. The key for the game will be tackling in the secondary. If Purdue can get receivers on the ground at the spot they catch the ball, things will work out in their favor. If Northwestern receivers have room to catch, run, and pick up first downs in the passing game, it’s going to be a long day for Purdue.
Discipline is the name of the game against this Northwestern passing attack. The line has to remain disciplined in their rush lanes, the linebackers must stay alert in their zones and not get sucked up, and the secondary can’t get bored and get caught with their eyes in the backfield. When Northwestern creates big plays in the passing game, it’s usually because a defender bites up on their run game and cuts a player loose in the secondary. Purdue’s been good at keeping the ball in front of them in the first 2 games, and that will be put to the test again on Saturday.