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Northwestern-Purdue rapid reaction: Wildcats extend winning streak to five with 23-13 victory

The defense was stout on third down and Clayton Thorson was sharp in a strong overall performance.

NCAA Football: Purdue at Northwestern David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

EVANSTON — No overtime would be needed this week.

No. 25 Northwestern (7-3, 5-2 Big Ten) overwhelmed Purdue (4-6, 2-5) 23-13 under the lights at Ryan Field, winning its fifth straight contest in a game that felt over midway through the third quarter, though two second-half Boilermakers touchdowns made the Wildcats sweat a bit down the stretch.

Clayton Thorson led the charge offensively for the Wildcats, finishing 26 of 46 for 296 yards and two total touchdowns. The passing game, along with suffocating defense and three Charlie Kuhbander field goals, powered Pat Fitzgerald's team to yet another victory.

For a while, neither offense could put anything together; the two teams combined for just 91 yards in a scoreless opening quarter.

But a Riley Lees punt return — a touchdown that got brought back to the Boilermakers' 46-yard line because of a penalty — flipped the field early in the second quarter, and Clayton Thorson started to put some quality throws together, ultimately opening the scoring with a four-yard scramble for a touchdown.

Another touchdown drive just before half gave the Wildcats a more comfortable 14-0 lead at the break, and three second half field goals helped Northwestern get across the finish line.

Thorson found a rhythm

The NU signal-caller didn't do much early, but he found his groove. He put together three 20-yard passes on the scoring drive at the end of the first half, and his 11-yard touchdown pass to Bennett Skowronek to cap that series was a dime.

Aided by sturdy pass-protection, Thorson looked much more comfortable in the pocket than he has in past weeks. The running game was nonexistent — Justin Jackson rushed for just 46 yards on 25 carries against a strong Purdue run defense. It was on Thorson to win the game, and he delivered.

When Thorson throws the intermediate and deep balls well, it's a pretty sight. And that's what happened for much of Saturday.

Timely defense

When the defense needed to rise up and stand tall, it did.

Purdue came up short on two fourth downs in the first half, one of which was on a fourth-and-one from the NU 4-yard line. The Wildcats' defense came up big again early in the fourth quarter, quelling a Purdue comeback attempt with another fourth-and-one stuff at the Purdue 45. The D also held the Boilermakers to 7-of-19 on third down. Northwestern, on the other hand, went 9-of-22 on third down.

Trent Goens notched a sack, and Jordan Thompson added two of his own. Purdue QB Elijah Sindelar faced consistent pressure in the pocket, and was hit or hurried on many of his 60 pass attempts. Joe Gaziano and the Miller brothers were stout in the running game, and swatted several passes at the line of scrimmage.

Targeting (again)

Northwestern had to deal with another targeting penalty and expulsion, this one by Montre Hartage after he came in to make a tackle after successful Purdue fake punt near the end of the first half. It was the fourth targeting ejection against Northwestern this season.

Hartage sat out of the second half, but it didn't prove crippling.