Every week, InsideNU writers Josh Rosenblat and Henry Bushnell will wrap up Northwestern game coverage with some final thoughts (we'll try to stay away from topics addressed in game columns), along with our big takeaways from the rest of the Big Ten. This week, Daniel Rapaport fills in for Josh. Following Northwestern's 38-14 win at Purdue, here's the 2014 Week 13 edition of the Weekend Rewind:
Prevailing thoughts on Northwestern
Taking care of business
It wasn't the prettiest of football games, but today's win over Purdue was probably Northwestern's most complete performance of the season. The offense flowed nicely, the defense was particularly strong, and special teams even made a big play in the form of Tony Jones' 64-yard punt return touchdown.
It wasn't all good news, however. Trevor Siemian suffered what looked to be a serious knee injury. He was in crutches and street clothes for the entirety of the second half and had his knee immobilized in a big brace. Nothing's confirmed yet, but all signs point to this being a potential season ender. Zack Oliver came in and played nicely, displaying his strong arm on some downfield throws after being a bit jumpy during his first few plays.
Purdue is not a great football team, plain and simple. But this Northwestern team has shown a tendency to play down or up to the level of their opponents and get conservative while ahead and let teams back into games. Finally, that changed today. Though Purdue was somehow favored to win this game, Northwestern has the superior talent, and that was on full display. And once they had a lead, they extended the lead because they weren't afraid to throw the ball downfield. That was refreshing to see.
It'll be interesting to see the game plan for next week's battle for bowl eligibility with Illinois. Zack Oliver has a strong arm, but he's not as talented as Siemian is, and the coaching staff hasn't shown any confidence in Matt Alviti's ability to throw the ball. Look for Justin Jackson, who had another stellar performance today to surpass 1,000 yards on the season as a true freshman (!), to be featured early and often.
Another interesting development has been the emergence of Treyvon Green. Green backed up a breakout performance against Notre Dame with another solid outing, posting 66 yards on 7 carries. If he can take some carries and lighten Jackson's load, that'll be good for Jackson's chances of avoiding injury and feeling fresh when he gets the ball.
- Daniel Rapaport
Daniel hailed this as Northwestern's most complete performance of the season, and he's not alone in doing so. But I'm still skeptical.
As dominant as the Wildcats looked on Saturday in West Lafayette, I don't think it's even possible to underestimate how exhaustively poor this Purdue team is. Yes, they hung around against superior teams early in Big Ten play, but their 3-8 record pretty accurately represents their skill level, just as last season's 1-11 record did.
The Boilermakers have allowed 30-plus points in all but one of their 11 games, and offensively, most of Saturday's five turnovers were Purdue's own undoing. And after jumping out to a 21-0 lead, NU only outscored Purdue 17-14 the rest of the way.
The point here isn't to rain on the Wildcats' parade. A few weeks ago, nobody thought the Illinois game would be a do-or-die affair with bowl eligibility on the line, and the fact that it is is an achievement. But likewise, now nobody thinks NU can possibly lose to the Illini. I just want to point out that a win is by no means a foregone conclusion -- in fact, with Siemian likely out, it's far from it.
- Henry Bushnell
Around the Big Ten
After a massive win at Nebraska, it's about time that we give Minnesota credit where credit is due. Some of us at InsideNU have been highly dismissive of the Golden Gophers as legitimate Big Ten West contenders, or even just as a good team. But over the past three weeks, that's exactly what they've been.
It's not that we were necessarily wrong. Earlier in the season, even when Minnesota beat Michigan and Northwestern, Jerry Kill's team wasn't good; they were average. The following two weeks proved that. But heading into a tough four game stretch that would define their season, Kill and his staff prepared their players expertly. After a blowout of Iowa at Kinnick and a respectable loss at Ohio State, the Gophers came through in a big way today.
Down 21-7 at the half, Mitch Leidner led three second half touchdown drives -- and rushed for 111 yards and 2 touchdowns in the process -- to help Minnesota pull knock off the Cornhuskers despite being a double-digit underdog.
When the dust settles, everybody will realize that when the Gophers welcome Wisconsin next Saturday, a trip to Indianapolis will be on the line. And with the way they've been playing, it would be foolish to rule Minnesota out.
- Henry Bushnell
Ohio State - Michigan
Michigan visits Ohio State next week, and I can't think of a time when these two teams played each other that the programs were in more different places.
Ohio State, after surviving an early scare from lowly Indiana, has a legitimate chance of making the College Football Playoff. Michigan, on the other hand, lost at home to Maryland and sits at 5-6. In all likelihood, they'll miss a bowl game -- which is not something Michigan football stands for. Brady Hoke's status is uncertain at best, while Urban Meyer has succeeded in building the premier program in the Big Ten.
But who are we to talk -- Michigan did beat Northwestern, after all!
- Daniel Rapaport
Big Ten Power Rankings
1. Ohio State
2. Michigan State
11. Penn State