Northwestern and Purdue will square off in an extremely rare Northwestern home night game in November. Northwestern is looking to make it five wins in a row while Purdue is desperately searching for a win to take it closer to bowl eligibility. It should be a fun one. We talked to Travis Milller of Hammer and Rails, the Purdue SB Nation site, about the game. Thanks to Hammer and Rails for doing this.
1. With Blough out for the season, what can we expect from Sindelar this weekend? Is he as passable as he was to start the year?
I think Sindelar will be fine. Blough had secured the starting role because of his accuracy and because he was more elusive in the pocket and a better runner. Part of Sindelar’s accuracy issues have come from drops by his receivers. It was especially bad against Rutgers, as he played most of the game and we had a rash of drops. If the receivers have a better day we beat Rutgers and Sindelar may have started against Nebraska.
The biggest thing Sindelar needs to learn is to put a little more touch on his passes. He has a great arm, but he is still in the “throw as hard as you can” mode. That has led to some of the drops. Even Coach Brohm has said that Sindelar is probably the better QB if we had different players around him, but Blough was better for what we had. He is not coming in totally raw and he has done some good things this year.
2. This question was inevitable, but how would you grade Jeff Brohm's performance so far? Is Purdue better than its record?
Brohm has been a breath of fresh air because he has made adjustments and he has done everything possible to get a measure of success from this team. He has had us in every game so far, and he continues to adjust a game plan based on what he has instead of his system. You could never say that about Darrell Hazell. Not only did he never make adjustments, it never seemed like he had a plan.
Brohm has this team playing about as well as possible considering the talent gap we have due to Hazell’s poor recruiting. We’re 4-5 and we’re about 2-3 plays away from being at least 6-3. We needed a stop at Nebraska and a two-point conversion at Rutgers. We were also competitive at Wisconsin and even Michigan, who beat us by 18, didn’t pull away until the fourth quarter.
The only game where I have to criticize Brohm in some playcalls is at Rutgers, where the running game was working but there were a few crucial points where he still went to the air when we had all the drops. Also, midway through the fourth quarter he decided to go for it down 8 at the Rutgers 30 on 4th down. I understand the logic, as we needed a TD, but if he kicks there we’re down 5 and the last minute TD wins it.
Overall though, he has done a fantastic job. Injuries to key defenders played a big role in the late rally by Nebraska and we really should have beaten Rutgers if not for a horrible day by our receivers.
3. Offensive and defensive X-Factors in this game? (highest variance performers)
Purdue’s secondary is a concern right now. Da’Wan Hunte, our top corner, missed the Illinois game and the second half against Nebraska. The Cornhuskers picked Kamal hardy, his replacement, apart. We could really use him back as well as linebacker TJ McCollum, who was out leading tackler before getting hurt against Minnesota. McCollum is the type that stuffs the hole Gus Edwards had on Rutgers’ long TD run or makes a play to stop one of Nebraska’s late drives. If we can get both back it would be a huge boost to a defense that is already playing pretty well.
On offense, we need the receivers to catch passes. Last week Jarrett Burgess came out of nowhere two have three nice downfield catches and that would be a huge offensive boost. Burgess is a former pro baseball player who walked on two years ago and played a little under Hazell, but until last week hadn’t even seen the field. He is a big 6’3” outside receiver that can stretch the field with his speed. If he is going to be a consistent contributor in the offense going forward it gives us a look on the outside that has been missing all year.
4. The team's defensive weaknesses seem to be defensive havoc rate and standard down sack rate. Does Purdue have the pass rush to trouble Northwestern's resurgent offensive line?
Last week against Illinois was our best pass rush week yet. Jacob Theineman had a huge third down sack and Markus Bailey had another big one. Danny Ezechuwku was also consistently getting pressure on the edge. It was an atypical week, as we have struggled to get a pass rush for most of the season.
Is that a sign of improvement, or is it the “Well, it was Illinois” factor. I tend to lean towards the latter. Illinois is a really bad team and we took advantage of their offensive line in the second half. Maybe it gains some confidence going forward though.
5. How do you see the game going?
I would love to pull off a win and this is the better chance of the two road games before Indiana. That said, you’re on a hot streak of Northwestern proportions right now. I say that because I know Northwestern gets on these, “how did they pull THAT off” runs of games, and winning three straight in overtime definitely qualifies. We’ll probably lose on something like a 19-lateral 87 play as time expires.