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Matchups to Watch | Purdue vs. Northwestern

Matchups to watch as Purdue looks to stay ahead in the B1G West race

NCAA Football: Purdue at Wisconsin Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The Purdue Boilermakers take the field at home for the final time on Saturday in front of what should be another spectacular crowd for senior day against the Northwestern Wildcats. The Wildcats have struggled to a 1-9 record while the Boilers sit at 6-4 and a potential trip to the B1G Championship if they can win out and get some help along the way.

Let’s take a look at some of the key matchups to watch for between the Boilermakers and the Wildcats.

1 | Evan Hull vs. Purdue Defense

Nam Y. Huh / AP

Northwestern has one of the worst offenses in the country and I know Purdue seems to make bad offenses look very good at times but Evan Hull is about it when it comes to playmakers for the Wildcat offense. Purdue’s defense should key on Hull anytime he is in the backfield but especially in the passing game as Hull leads Northwestern in rushing yards (755 yards) and is nearly leading them in receiving yards (509 yards) as well. These stats don’t come with a lot of touchdowns though as Northwestern ranks 128th (of 131) in scoring offense averaging only 15.3 points per game. If the Boilers can make it hard for Hull to get going in the running game, especially on a day when it is cold and a bit blustery, it will be tough for Northwestern to string enough plays together to put points on the board.

2 | Purdue OG’s Marcus Mbow & Spencer Holstege vs. Northwestern DL Adetomiwa Adebawore

Noe Padilla / Journal and Courier / USA Today Network

The story with Northwestern’s struggles this season start with the offense and their lack of playmakers but a close second might be the lack of pass rushers or playmakers on the defensive line. Northwestern has only two players that account for multiple sacks on the season and defensive lineman Adetomiwa Adebawore has 4 (second on the team is Ryan Johnson with 2). In fact, the entire Northwestern defense has only 14 sacks on the season which places them in a tie for 117th in the country (out of 131). As a comparison with Purdue, who we all know lacks a difference making pass rusher this season, has 23 sacks (tie 58th).

With the emergence of Devin Mockobee and the return of Dylan Downing, Purdue should be able to create good running lanes on the offensive line. Last week against Minnesota, Northwestern was really susceptible running between the tackles but especially so when running backs could cut back against the defense. Minnesota ran the ball 58 times for 302 yards with an average of 5.2 yards per carry. In their wins, Purdue has run the ball an average of 4.2 per carry (yes, that includes the .4 ypc they had against Maryland) while in losses they have averaged only 2.9. Purdue wins this game if they can run the ball 35 or more times and average 4 yards per carry which would put the Boilers right at 140 yards.

3 | Charlie Jones vs. Northwestern Defensive Backs

All eyes will continue to be on Charlie Jones as the potential next Biletnikoff Award finalist from Purdue has 87 receptions for 1010 yards and 10 touchdowns but Purdue faces a Northwestern defense that appears to be better against the pass than they do defensing the rush. That may be a bit of a mirage as many opponents simply choose to run the ball as Northwestern gives up 200 yards per game (ranking 119th out of 131).

With Northwestern being so poor against the run, it may not provide the amount of opportunities that Jones is used to and it would be good for O’Connell to spread the ball around a bit more. Let’s face it, Charlie could use a game where he doesn’t get targeted 16 times and everyone else doesn’t see more than 2 but nobody in the Boilermakers wide receiver room has really been anything other than a blip on the screen during games. Purdue’s wide receivers are who they are at this point and until we see Broc Thompson back on the field or more consistency from TJ Sheffield, it’s the ‘Chuck Sizzle Show.’

4 | Northwestern OT Caleb Tiernan vs. Purdue DE’s Jack Sullivan & Khordae Sydnor & LEO Nic Caraway

David Berding, Getty Images

I’m giving away an extra matchup this week because it is one that I think I may focus on more than anything on defense this weekend. Northwestern’s best offensive player according to PFF is OT Peter Skoronski and he is a future first round draft pick in the NFL but on the other end you see RS Fr right offensive tackle Caleb Tiernan who grades out really, really low. In the last four weeks, Tiernan has graded out at 69%, 66%, 77%, and 51% and in two of those weeks was really poor in pass blocking (53.8% and 46.7%).

Purdue is going to look to get pressure on the quarterback by using their four defensive linemen first and if Sullivan, Sydnor, and Caraway can win that matchup on a consistent basis, Purdue will be able to sit back more on the defensive backside and look to make plays against the pass where Northwestern quarterbacks have combined for 11 interceptions to just 10 touchdowns. This may be a game where you see Purdue scheme directly to take advantage of the weakest part of an opponent’s offensive line being the outside and blitzing or stunting to get Northwestern into making mistakes.