After an excruciating 23-21 win over Penn State, the final home game of Northwestern's 2015 season is upon us. The Wildcats welcome the Purdue Boilermakers to Ryan Field this upcoming Saturday with a chance to get an eighth win and keep hopes of a New Year's Six bowl alive. Northwestern will honor its seniors, and then face a Purdue team that is frankly not very good. The Wildcats are 14.5-point favorites, as of Tuesday afternoon.
Here are three things to know about the lowly Boilermakers:
1. Purdue fans are counting down the days to basketball season
Don't take my word for it, see for yourself at Purdue's Hammer and Rails SB Nation blog.
With a 2-7 record overall and a 1-4 showing in the Big Ten, Purdue is looking up from the bottom of the Big Ten West. But what else is new? The Boilermakers went 3-9 last year (1-7 Big Ten) and 1-11 (0-8 Big Ten) in 2013. They haven't won consecutive games since 2012.
Good thing head coach Darrell Hazell is optimistic about his program. Per Hammer and Rails, Hazell was quoted as saying, "I think we're heading in the right direction, for sure, absolutely, 100 percent certain we are heading into the right direction."
Hazell and his $6.7 million buyout will probably see another season in West Lafayette, and that's good for Northwestern fans. His first Big Ten home win came just two weeks ago, a shocking 55-45 victory over Nebraska. He's 6-27 in his career as a head coach, and he has three wins over FBS level programs in 30 attempts. 2015 has been more of the same for the Boilermakers as they are stumbling to the finish line of another losing season.
Only three days left until basketball season.
2. The defense is bad
I mean, really bad. It's the worst in the Big Ten, allowing 35.9 points and 452.4 yards per game, playing right into Northwestern's hands with 205.1 of those yards being allowed on the ground.
To be fair, like most Big Ten teams, Purdue does have some playmakers on their defense. Cornerback Anthony Brown had three interceptions against Nebraska, and is among the Big Ten leaders in picks, fellow corner Frankie Williams is solid, safety Leroy Clark has 38 tackles, and defensive ends Antoine Miles and Evan Panfil both have four sacks.
And yes, we've seen some flashes of brilliance from the defense this year. The Boilermakers held Michigan State to just 24 points, and future first-round quarterback Connor Cook to just 139 yards. Against Nebraska, the defense held the Cornhuskers' offense to just 16 points over the first three quarters. Then we saw the defense we've come to know, as they disappeared in the fourth quarter, allowing 29 points in the final 15 minutes.
Ultimately, Purdue's defense is too inconsistent for it to have any sustained success. Even in the Boilermakers' lone FBS win, the defense surrendered 45 points. Defensive coordinator Greg Hudson has struggled all season with making in-game adjustments, and while he has two talented cornerbacks, they play some of the softest coverage the conference has ever seen. Brown and Williams consistently line up nearly ten yards behind the line of scrimmage. Not only do they cede easy completions, but this helps account for the gaudy rushing totals of opposing offenses. It will be interesting to see how Northwestern approaches the porous Purdue defense.
3. The offense is a bit better
Purdue's offense, although often playing from behind, which can inflate numbers, averages 25.7 points per game, compared to Northwestern's 21.1. They also rack up 352.4 yards a game, compared to Northwestern's 338.9. They rank 102nd overall in S&P+ offense, compared to Northwestern's rank of 107. But Northwestern is a pretty pitiful point of comparison.
On the surface, the Boilermaker offense looks capable. And they are. Freshman quarterback David Blough, thrust into the starting role against Bowling Green after the benching of Austin Appleby, has been exactly what you would expect from a freshman QB. In his best game, he threw for 274 yards, 4 touchdowns, and rushed for a 56-yard score in the win over Nebraska. In his worst, he threw three interceptions against Minnesota.
Purdue also features an impressive freshman in its backfield. Markell Jones ranks eighth in the conference in rushing with 674 yards and seven touchdowns. What might be even more impressive is his 5.5 yards per carry, and the fact that he has put up these numbers behind a subpar offensive line and while playing from behind for much of the season. The 5-foot-11 Jones is the rare combination of a big-play threat and a work-horse back. He rushed for nearly 8,000 yards in high school and his strong freshman campaign is no fluke. He's an exciting player.
Purdue just has not surrounded Blough or Jones with enough playmakers to make this offense dangerous. The Boilermaker receivers have struggled to get open, and clear number one wideout Danny Anthrop has not looked 100 percent healthy since suffering an ACL tear last season. The offensive line is mediocre at best. This is an offense that is capable of putting up points, but is hampered because it is often forced to play catch-up.