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Why Northwestern will/won’t beat Purdue

Northwestern will easily handle the Boilermakers Saturday at Ryan Field... right?

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Every Thursday or Friday during football season, we'll be presenting reasons why Northwestern will or won't come away from its Saturday game victorious. It's not so much an argument for or against either result as it is envisioning the scenarios in which the Wildcats come away from the game with a win or a loss.

This week the Wildcats look to improve to 8-2 on the season and notch their third straight win, as they welcome the Purdue Boilermakers to Ryan Field. Purdue, to put it lightly, has not been good this season. In head coach Darrell Hazell's third season on the job, the Boilermakers are 2-7 with wins over Indiana State and Nebraska. Purdue has played Michigan State close, but also lost by multiple scores to Illinois and Minnesota. At 2-7, the Boilermakers are already looking ahead to next season.

This game features two teams going in drastically different directions, as Northwestern is playing for a possible NY6 bowl and Purdue is simple playing for pride. That being said, Purdue now has a chance to play spoiler against a team that routed them last season. With all that being said, here are the reasons Northwestern will/won't beat Purdue.

Why Northwestern will beat Purdue

1. Justin Jackson is back! (And so is Clayton Thorson)

Although the Sophomore from Carol Stream Illinois never actually left, Justin Jackson looked like the All-Big Ten-level running back we had come to know last week against Penn State. Jackson ran for a career high 186 yards against the Nittany Lions, who tout the 41st best rushing defense by S&P+. Purdue's rushing defense rank? 112th. Just last week, the Boilermakers gave up 382 rushing yards to an Illinois team averaging 144.3 per game. Northwestern's passing attack is shaky, but they may very well never actually need to throw the ball this Saturday.

Speaking of throwing the ball, Clayton Thorson is going to play! Even though NU scored 23 points and won last week, Northwestern's offense looked sluggish and out of sorts for the vast majority of the second half with Zach Oliver under center. While we might not get a bunch of highlight plays from Thorson, he provides Northwestern's pass attack with a least a little jolt. If he has a run game to lean on, like Oliver did in the first half against Penn State, he should be just fine.

2. The Wildcat defense dominates

They don't play the games on paper for a reason, but here are some numbers regarding Northwestern's defense and Purdue's offense.  Purdue is 102nd in the nation (75th rushing, 94th passing), which is admittedly better than Northwestern's offense, but that doesn't mean it's good. In comparison Northwestern's defense is 6th in the nation (40th rushing, 9th passing). It's tough to argue against the 6th best defense vs. the 102nd best offense. And sure, Purdue hung 55 points on Nebraska a few weeks ago, but that is a Nebraska defense that ranks 69th nationally. More importantly, to get to 55, the Boilermakers needed to have a short field four different times, and needed to explosive plays. That accounts for 42 of the 55. With almost everyone on the defense back and healthy, Northwestern's defense should have a good day at the office.

3. Northwestern is better than Purdue

Alright, time for some #analysis. Sometimes in football, it just pays to be better and more talented on both sides of the ball, and while we can't say that about Northwestern a lot, we can say it this week. Purdue is 2-7 for a reason. As a program, it has lost 10 straight games in November. The Boilermakers are not very good at football. Northwestern should be able to easily handle them in all facets of the game. It will just come down to execution.

Why Northwestern will lose to Purdue

1.  IT'S A TRAP!

The only real fear here for the Wildcats is that they come out flat and make mistakes. The Wildcats have their biggest game of the season next week at Camp Randall and with all the talk about bowl games, they may not be totally focused on the game this week. It's a classic letdown-look-ahead spot, as the fine folks over at the Solid Verbal like to say. Northwestern is coming off a big, physical win, and has what is bound to be another tough game looming next week. A couple of missed opportunities and a few bad turnovers and suddenly Purdue is leading in the third quarter. Think Ball State-redux.

2. Northwestern is strangely bad against bad teams

Northwestern is the better team in this matchup, but for whatever reason they're not always great historically when that is the case. The obvious example from this season is Ball State, where even though the game was in primetime, Northwestern looked flat early and only wound up winning by five. Some other examples include the 2014 losses to Northern Illinois and Illinois, the 2013 win against Maine, and the 2011 loss against Army. There aren't an overwhelming number of examples, but the Wildcats do seem to play to the level of their competition more often than not. Maybe that's just a common trend across college football.

3. Nebraska David Blough shows up at Ryan Field

We already covered above that Purdue's offense is not very good, but for one game this year they were phenomenal. Granted, it was against a bad Nebraska defense, and with the help of short fields and big plays. But still the numbers — 55 points and 457 total yards — are impressive. Quarterback David Blough was the star, throwing for 274 yards and 4 touchdowns while also rushing for 82 yards and a touchdown. It would be strange to see those kind of numbers against Northwestern's highly-ranked defense, but stranger things have certainly happened.