Last year’s game at Wrigley Field was a treat. I got to see Purdue win in one of my favorite places on earth and it was a great day overall. The basketball team even beat a team that went on to be the national runner up (the less said about what happened after that, the better).
Now let’s never do it again.
Purdue beat a very bad Northwestern team that day, but what is most remembered is the condition of the turf as players were slipping all day long. The game even turned on an accidental onside kick due to a slip. This year we’re back in Ross-Ade Stadium, where Purdue has not beaten the Wildcats since 2007.
Yes, I was surprised by that too. The Wildcats have won 10 of the last 14 in the series and “Even year Northwestern” is a real phenomenon of late:
2020: 7-2, West Division champs, bowl win over Auburn
2018: 9-5, West Division Champs, bowl win over Utah
Purdue beat the Wildcats on the road in both of those 3-9 years. The Boilers lost in Ross-Ade in close games in those even years. Can we buck the trend?
2021 Record: 3-9, 1-8 Big Ten
Bowl Result: None
Blog Representation: InsideNU
Series with Purdue: Purdue leads 52-33-1
Last Purdue win: 32-14 at Wrigley Field on 11/20/2021
Last Northwestern win: 27-20 at Purdue on 11/14/2020
Head Coach: Pat Fitzgerald (109-90 in 17th season at Northwestern)
Last Season for the Wildcats
It was a forgettable year in 2021 for Northwestern after a great pandemic season. Kenneth Walker ripped them for a 75 yard TD on the first play from scrimmage on the season and it went downhill from there. The lone conference win was a 21-7 home win over Rutgers. They beat Indiana State 24-6 and Ohio 35-6 in the non-conference, but for the most part the offense was atrocious and struggled big time to score points.
The offense was the worst in the Big Ten and one of the worst in the country. They finished 125th out of 130 FBA teams, averaging just 16.6 points per game. They were one of four teams Purdue faced that was among the 20 worst offenses in college football (115 Illinois, 123 Indiana, 125 Northwestern, and 129 UConn), and they were the only one of those four to crack double digits in scoring against us. They were 116th in total yardage and 111th in passing.
The defense was arguably okay, but it was completely undone by the offense. The Purdue game was a prime example. They held Purdue to five field goal attempts, but they couldn’t take advantage of all those points left on the field. Northwestern never scored more than 21 points in Big Ten play, and they only scored more than 14 once. They closed the season on a six game losing streak scoring 7, 14, 12, 7, 14, and 14.
You know the offense is bad when you try three quarterbacks and none of them throw for more than 1,000 yards. As a team Northwestern threw for 2,128 yards and 13 touchdowns with 14 interceptions. They were not particularly mobile either, as Andrew Marty rushed for 101 yards and a score, but Ryan Hilinski and Hunter Johnson combined to finish with -79 yards. Then there was the Purdue game, where the Boilers sacked them on four consecutive plays to end the game.
The offensive line returns four starters led by tackle Peter Skoronski, who is one of the best in the conference. That will help a running game that was at least somewhat decent. Evan Hull ran for 1,009 yards and 7 scores, so there is something to build around there. Andrew Clair also added 349 yards and a score.
There has to be more out of the passing game though. Johnson and Marty are gone, leaving Hilinski who threw for a team high 978 yards and 3 TDs against four picks. He has the edge to start, but redshirt freshman Brendan Sullivan could start too. The top receiver figures to be Malik Washington, who caught 44 passes for 578 yards and two TDs. Donny Navarro III is also a strong addition from Illinois in the transfer portal.
As a former linebacker, Pat Firzgerald’s best teams have been anchored by the defense. Last year it got torched by Milton Wright and Aidan O’Connell. AOC had 423 yards through the air and Wright caught 8 passes for 213 yards and 3 TDs. If he was eligible this year that would be great. They were also the worst run defense in the conference, giving up over 200 yards per game. Purdue still only ran for 50 yards on 23 carries.
Bryce Gallagher is a great linebacker to build around. He had 90 tackles and a sack last year and should be the heart of the defense. They need more of a pass rush though. Henrik Barndt, Ryan Johnson, and Taishan Holmes are all transfer portal additions up front. They do return Adetomiwa Adebawore as their top pass rusher who had 4.5 sacks last season.
Northwestern only intercepted six passes last year, and none of those players return. AJ Hampton was still a good cover corner with 12 passes defensed and he returns. Coca Azema had 72 tackles and four passes defensed, so he should be a solid DB in the secondary. Cameron Mitchell also returns with a wealth of experience, having notched 48 tackles and six pass breakups.
Northwestern Special Teams
The roster only lists Jacob Tabibian and Jack Olsen as kickers, and they will battle to take over for long time incumbent Charlie Kuhbander. Olsen did kick a single extra point last year. The Wildcats also must replace their punter. Kuhbander still was only 6 of 13 on field goals last year.
Raymond Niro III was pretty good in limited action as a punt returner. He averaged an impressive 20 yards per return on five attempts. He also handled kickoff returns and averaged 15.9 yards.
Northwestern is expected to be the worst team in the West, and with good reason. The offense was bad last year and the run defense was bad. You can’t beat Wisconsin, Illinois, and Minnesota with a bad run defense. Other than Iowa winning 17-12, Big Ten West teams lit up Northwestern last year. Even Nebraska scored 56.
The defense probably won’t be that bad again, but there are not a lot of encouraging signs from the offense. I just don’t see it being enough to keep up with Purdue if things keep humming under AOC.
It will be the final home game for AOC, and I think he breaks the single season passing record by going over 4,000 yards for the year in this game. Yes, I think that highly of him this year, especially since he had 3,700 last year in mostly nine games (he had only 292 yards in the first four games). Purdue 37, Northwestern 14