After a close 29-28 win over Minnesota last week, the Wildcats are sizzling at 5-0, tied for first in the Big Ten as they head into their match-up against Purdue. This game — Purdue’s first conference match-up and Northwestern’s second — follows a disappointing Purdue loss to Mid-American Conference foe Toledo two weeks ago. To make matters even worse for the 2-2 Boilermakers, head coach Danny Hope will start redshirt freshman quarterback Rob Henry in place of the injured Robert Marve — who will miss the rest of the season with an injured knee. Purdue will hope for a win over the Wildcats to stay afloat, while the hometown ‘Cats will look to earn a 6-0 record heading into their bye week.
Northwestern has won the last two meetings between the schools, winning at home in 2008 and at Ross-Ade Stadium last year. Stefan Demos figured heavily in last year’s 27-21 win over Purdue, kicking four field goals. Coming off the game-winner last week against Minnesota, Demos may be poised for a stellar day at Ryan Field.
Overlooking an opponent going into a bye week is a recipe for disaster, one Coach Fitz’s Wildcats will look to avoid come game time. Let’s see how the Boilermakers and the Wildcats stack up on the field.
Northwestern offense vs. Purdue defense
Points were certainly not at a premium last week. This Saturday, look for much of the same. Dan Persa is throwing passes with 79.4% accuracy and making plays with his feet to keep drives alive. Persa has been spreading the ball around too, completing passes to eight different receivers last week. The ground game has left something to be desired this season, averaging 3.4 yards a carry, but Purdue’s defense gave up yards in chunks on the ground against Toledo so the chance for success is there. Coming off last week’s game, Mike Trumpy and Jacob Schmidt (3.6 and 3.7 yards per carry respectively) seem to have become the first and second string running backs respectively. With Arby Fields not getting a single carry last week, his tenure as the Wildcats’ go-to running back may be over.
On the defensive side of the ball for Purdue, getting pressure on the quarterback has been a bright spot. Purdue is tied for 27th in the nation with 12 sacks, but getting pressure on Persa will be a bit difficult for Purdue’s defense. Their secondary has not made many big impact plays, coming into the game having forced only two interceptions, and don’t expect much to change with Northwestern’s spread formation that forces the defensive backs to cover the whole field for 60 minutes.
Purdue offense vs. Northwestern defense
Injuries have depleted Purdue’s offensive attack and the Wildcats will look to capitalize on a few younger players getting their feet wet. The main focus of the Wildcat defense will go towards stopping a potent Purdue ground game, which ranks 35th in the FBS with just under 190 yards a game. That being said, Fitz and company will look to force Rob Henry to make plays through the air in his first collegiate start.
The keys to Purdue’s running attack are Henry and fullback Dan Dierking, who’s been averaging 5.4 yards per carry, a number the ‘Cats hope to bring down just a bit. No one is more dangerous than the man holding the ball, so containment will be key.
Purdue’s receiving corps are in shambles. They lost senior Keith Smith to a knee injury earlier in the season and more recently lost 6′4″ junior Justin Siller. With two of its leading receivers on the sideline for this week, Cortez Smith — a senior leading the team in receiving — will look to provide the spark for the Boilermakers. Look for the secondary to make a play or two, especially cornerback Jordan Mabin, who has been watching tapes of the freshman Henry all week.
As mentioned before, Demos was big for Northwestern when these two teams last met. Kicking in the NCAA is sometimes a toss-up, but with the weather set to be sunny and warm all bodes well for Demos to have another big day. Carson Wiggs, Purdue’s place-kicker, doesn’t turn too many heads so the kicking match-up might not be too influential in the outcome.
The two punters in this game don’t seem to figure heavily in the decision either. Northwestern’s Brandon Williams in averaging 40 yards per punt whereas his Purdue counterpart, Cody Webster, has averaged just over 38 yards per punt in limited action. Perhaps more importantly, the team that makes the fewest mistakes in the return game would stand to benefit.
Recent history bodes well for the Wildcats. They enter this game on a roll and will hopefully carry that momentum through to Homecoming when they are set to clash with #17 Michigan State. That being said, Coach Fitz must make sure that his boys don’t overlook a banged-up Purdue team. The defensive line will benefit from Henry’s happy feet, but don’t look for Purdue to put up a lot of points. Therefore, the Wildcats should handily improve to 6-0 by taking care of business under the lights in Evanston, 31-16.