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Purdue at Northwestern Preview

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Purdue heads to Wrigley looking to clinch a winning record.

NCAA Football: Rutgers at Northwestern Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports

Purdue is in rare territory. It has not gotten a 7th regular season win since 2007. It hasn’t won eight games in a regular season since 2006, and the door to a nine win season (assuming we win the bowl game) would break an 18 year drought dating back to 2003. It is not a season for the ages, but it is still a deeply satisfying one unlike we have experienced in quite some time.

That we can win eight games, and, in fact, should win eight games, feels fantastic. It is something pretty much every Purdue fan would have taken before the season. The only thing standing in our way is the two worst teams in the conference. Both Northwestern and Indiana have horrific offenses, especially compared to the thermonuclear onslaught that Ohio State just unleashed on us.

Like the basketball team has done so far, it is time to not screw around. This is the first time we have entered a game where we are demonstrably the better team since the UConn game. A loss this week or next week would be incredibly disappointing, but we’re Purdue. We have seen this happen before.

Northwestern Wildcats

2020 Record: 7-2

2021 Record: 3-7, 1-6

Bowl Result: Beat Auburn 35-19 in Citrus Bowl

Blog Representation: InsideNU

Series with Purdue: Purdue leads 52-33-1

Last Purdue win: 24-22 at Northwestern on 11/9/2019

Last Northwestern win: 27-20 at Purdue on 11/14/2020

Head Coach: Pat Fitzgerald (109-88 in 16th season at Northwestern)

Their Season So Far

In short, it has been a tremendous disappointment. The Wildcats won the Big Ten West last year, played Ohio State relatively well in the conference title game, then won the Citrus Bowl over Auburn. It was their second division title in three years and they returned a strong defense that was supposed to power the team.

That never came to pass. The offense has been horrendous with inconsistent-at-best quarterback play. They are averaging a Big Ten worst 17.1 points per game overall and in conference play they are at 12.7 points per game, only slightly better than Indiana. That has caused the defense to collapse, as they have given up 32.4 points per game against Big Ten foes.

In their last four games they have scored only 40 points total. That’s very encouraging after Purdue gave up 59 last week. They haven’t scored more than 21 points in conference play yet. This is the prefect opponent to get our defense back on its feet, especially with the very important Bucket game coming up next week. Our own offense, which has done really well the last few weeks, should also keep humming.

Who to Watch on Offense

Evan Hull – RB – Hull is one of the few consistent offensive weapons they have had this year. He is in the top 10 in the Big Ten with 812 yards and has a real chance at a 1,000 season. He also has five TDs, 216 yards receiving, and two more receiving touchdowns. As a team, The Wildcats have 21 offensive touchdowns and he holds seven of them. He only had a couple of carries last year against Purdue, but he had 107 yards against Minnesota and went over 200 against Ohio.

Stephon Robinson Jr. – WR – The passing game is terrible, but Robinson has been a pretty consistent receiver. He has 40 receptions for 569 yards and 2 TDs. He represents close to a third of the Northwestern passing game on the season, so he is a guy to look for. He also had a 49 yard rush last week. Against Nebraska he had 8 receptions for 116 yards and their one touchdown.

A quarterback – Well, they will have one. He may not necessarily be good. Ryan Hilinski, Andrew Marty, and Hunter Johnson have almost evenly split snaps this year, with Hilinski and Marty splitting the most time in recent games. Johnson is the former 5-star recruit from Brownsburg and he started the opener with 283 yards and 3 TDs against Michigan State, but he has played sparingly since. Hilinski has the most passing yards with 789, while Marty has the most TDs with 5 (against 6 interceptions).

Who to Watch on Defense

Chris Bergin – LB – Bergin has definitely been a highly of an otherwise struggling defense. He has 112 tackles and an interception on the season, showing he finds his way to the ball on nearly every play. He is a fifth year guy that has been a productive player throughout his career. He had nine tackles in the win over Purdue last year.

Brandon Joseph – S – Joseph has been pretty good at his safety position with 75 tackles and three interceptions. Thankfully, he is not Greg Newsome II, who successfully neutralized David Bell in last year’s game. As a team, Northwestern only has five interceptions on the year, but you can also watch out for A.J. Hampton Jr., who has 10 passes defensed on the season.

Adetomiwa Adebawore – DL – Adebawore has been their best defensive lineman with 4.5 sacks and two forced fumbles. Along with Jeffery Pooler Jr. they have a decent pass rush, but again, the offense has done them no favors at all. If the Purdue defense can return to form after last week it will get stops and allow the Purdue offense to get plenty of chances. It is also significant that Northwestern has the worst run defense in the conference by far at 267 yards per game given up in league play. If Purdue can’t run it this week, it can’t run it.

Who to Watch on Special Teams

Charlie Kuhbander – K – Kuhbander is the long time Northwestern kicker, but he has struggled this year, going only 6 of 12 on field goal attempts. You might remember him from two years ago when he clanged a late field goal off the upright to set up Purdue’s game-winning field goal drive. Thanks to COVID this is his fifth year as Northwestern’s kicker.

Raymond Niro III – PR – Northwestern has returned punts well with a 16 yard average. Niro and Brandon Joseph have both been successful with double digit returns. Combined with Purdue’s struggle to punts, that can give their offense a much needed head start.

Game Outlook

Don’t mess around in this game. Yes, it is in a unique atmosphere at Wrigley Field, but Purdue needs to get over that and take care of business. There is a very good chance this will be a partisan Purdue crowd because of location, Northwestern’s struggles, and the uniqueness of Wrigley. I know I will be there with my family, and a lot of other fans want to take in this game. That can help us in the long run.

This is not a good team. Their offense is the worst we have face since at least the Illinois game. Their defense has given up a lot of rushing yards. They do relative well against the pass at less than 200 yards per game, but how much of that comes from teams running all day on them?

I would love to see Purdue finally get something going on the ground. Jeff Brohm has at least committed more to the run of late, and there will be room for it this week. That will open things up in the passing game even more.

I look for Purdue to get up early in this game and put it in the hands of the defense. That unit has proven it can close out games this year when Purdue has had the lead in the second half. On paper, at least, this should be a much easier challenge. Let’s make it so.