Fresh off a gauntlet pair of games against Top-10 teams Ohio State and Wisconsin, Northwestern stands at 4-5 and 3-3 in the Big Ten. With their Big Ten West title hopes all but vanished, the Wildcats fortunately face a doable final stretch of the season—against Purdue, Minnesota and Illinois—who have a combined 13-14 record.
This coming Saturday, Northwestern looks to keep their likely bowl game contention in play against a 3-6 (1-5 Big Ten) Purdue team that has lost its last four games by an average of 19.5 points per game.
Here are three things to know about Purdue.
The Boilermakers pass a lot—and effectively (sometimes)
Purdue gets a lot of flack throughout Big Ten circles for being, well, bad. The team finally fired Darrell Hazell after a 49-35 loss to Iowa, but notice that the Boilermakers scored 35 points in that game. While a pair of former Boilermaker QBs are struggling in the SEC, current Purdue QB David Blough is quietly racking up solid numbers under center this season, though a lot of that is coming when his team is way down. He’s thrown for 304 yards/per game (13th in the nation), just less than Louisville’s Lamar Jackson and more than Heisman candidates like Deshaun Watson and Jake Browning. And DeAngelo Yancey has been a consistent target—hauling in seven touchdowns (second in the Big Ten to, you guessed it, Austin Carr). Part of Blough’s success comes as a result of Purdue’s inability to run the ball (see below), but he’s put up some huge numbers this season, like 458 yards and five scores against Iowa. Blough isn’t efficient — by comparison, his completion percentage is 80th in the nation and he’s thrown 13 picks this year — but Purdue throws the ball well over 40 times per game, allowing him to put up deceivingly good numbers. Blough will test Northwestern’s secondary by pure volume of throws.
In West Lafayette, running the ball has been an uphill battle (to say the least)
After Wisconsin ran wild for 190 yards against the Wildcats, Northwestern’s defensive line catches a nice break. Purdue ranks in the bottom four in the FBS in rushing, edging out just Georgia State, Texas State and UCLA. It’s not even that the Boilermakers are a bad rushing team, it’s that they don’t do it much. Part of that is falling behind in games, but the Boilermakers pass-to-run ratio is 1.56, and only three FBS teams run it less than Purdue. Markell Jones and Brian Lankford-Johnson average 4.5 and 6.5 yards per carry, respectively, but don’t expect the Boilermakers to run all over Northwestern’s front seven.
Purdue is bad—especially on defense
Remember, Purdue is 3-6. The Boilermakers lost four straight. This is a bad team, and it has mostly their defense to blame. Purdue has allowed 37.7 points and 248 rushing yards per game, which is great news for Justin Jackson, who struggled mightily last week. Perhaps the most egregious downfalls for this defense are its susceptibility to third-down conversions and red zone scoring. The unit allows opponents to convert third downs 46.3 percent of the time, and opposing offenses score 90 percent of the time in the red zone. But Purdue also doesn’t force turnovers. It’s only tallied nine on the season and has the third-worst turnover margin in the country. Expect Northwestern to test Purdue’s porous rush defense early on, and likely have success against a near-pathetic team. The Wildcats are tied for the lowest time of possession in the country, but look for that to change on Saturday with a solid ground game. Purdue, a reeling program with myriad defensive issues, stands as a nice break for a 4-5 Northwestern team.