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Northwestern vs. Purdue preview: Three matchups to watch

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The Boilermakers have talent offensively but struggle to stop anyone.

NCAA Football: Purdue at Northwestern Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports

Football is an 11-on-11 game, but when it comes down to it, you have to win at the individual level to win at the team level. Here are three individual matchups that will be key in Saturday’s game between Northwestern.

DeAngelo Yancey vs. Trae Williams and Montre Hartage

Yancey is a big guy (6-foot-2, 205 pounds) with good straight-line speed and strength. He’s by far the most impressive weapon for this Purdue team, and he uses his physicality well to win on short routes while also possessing enough speed to take the top off the defense. Williams and Hartage have had their fair share of ups and downs, as would be expected for young cornerbacks in a true trial-by-fire situation. They play well off the line of scrimmage, and Yancey will be able to take advantage of that by using his big frame to win on intermediate routes. He’s a matchup challenge and one the Wildcats must limit — he averages over 20 yards per catch, and his highlight film speaks for itself.

Ifeadi Odenigbo vs. Purdue’s tackles

Ifeadi Odenigbo had one sack in four games. Then he had seven in the three following that. He’s had none since. Against a paper-thin Boilermaker offensive line, the senior should be able to dominate. At his best, Odenigbo is a player who destroys gameplans and can be the most dominant player on the field. When he disappears, though, the Northwestern defense struggles. Odenigbo’s presence this week will be especially key because Purdue throws the ball a lot. Almost 50 times per game. That should give Odenigbo plenty of opportunities to pin his ears back and get after David Blough. If the Wildcats can’t get pressure, it could be a long day in West Lafayette for a struggling secondary. The best way to stop a potent passing attack is to stop it at the source. It starts with Odenigbo.

Northwestern’s tackles versus Gelen Robinson

Robinson is coming off an impressive five-tackle, two-TFL, one-sack performance versus Minnesota last week. The son of former Purdue basketball star Glenn “Big Dog” Robinson, the defensive end has good quickness and strength for his relative small size. We’ve seen both Eric Olson and Blake Hance struggle at times with rushers off the edge, especially smaller guys. They’ll have to hold up in both the run and pass protection to allow Clayton Thorson to work the ball down the field and Justin Jackson to find room on stretch runs.