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Why Northwestern will/won’t beat Purdue

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It will be a stiff test for the Wildcats for their season opener, but they can come out with the win if they play to their strengths.

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

Every week during football season, we’ll be presenting reasons why Northwestern will or won’t come away victorious in the ensuing matchup. 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.

Northwestern will open the season with a conference clash in West Lafayette. In order to truly contend for a Big Ten West title, Northwestern needs to start off on the right foot, even in a difficult weeknight road matchup. Here are the reasons why Northwestern will or won’t win on Thursday.

Why Northwestern Will Beat Purdue

1) A relatively healthy Clayton Thorson provides an advantage at quarterback

As has been well publicized thus far, both teams are keeping their quarterback situations under wraps. But with just two days to go before kickoff, it still seems likely that Thorson will start without being severely hindered. If that’s the case, the senior quarterback will have ample opportunities against a team replacing both of their starting cornerbacks, especially considering that he put 296 yards and a touchdown on them last year. Thorson has passable pass catchers galore, and an inexperienced Purdue defense should have plenty of holes against the pass as long as Northwestern’s signal caller isn’t limited or hobbled.

2) The experience and girth in Northwestern’s front seven dominates in the trenches

The Boilermakers had a decent year running the football, and most of their running back committee is back for another season. With Elijah Sindelar in the pocket, the offensive line is more sack-prone, but they usually get the job done with either quarterback out there. However, Coach Brohm made special mention of Northwestern’s stocky defensive line in yesterday’s press conference, noting in part how they controlled last year’s matchup. Even with the absence of Tyler Lancaster, the linebackers will plug the holes created in the running game. The Wildcats may have to work a bit harder to manhandle Purdue in the passing attack, but consistently inconsistent offensive line play should work in Northwestern’s favor.

3) Northwestern’s veteran offensive line gets the job done

Speaking of up-and-down offensive line play....despite a strong finish to the season, Northwestern’s line continued a recent pattern with struggles in the season’s early goings. This year’s crew is among the more veteran in recent memory, with four solid returning starters and upperclassman Jared Thomas stepping in cleanly alongside them. Purdue’s run defense was stellar last year, but they are retaining just two starting members of the front seven. If Jeremy Larkin, who had a solid day against a tougher front in last year’s matchup, can get going with some help from the offensive line, Northwestern will be able to maintain control of this one.

Why Purdue Will Beat Northwestern

1) Talented receivers will attack a Northwestern secondary that lacks depth

Whether it’s Sindelar or David Blough at QB for the majority of the stats, Brohm will dial up both deep shots and consistent quick hitters. The Boilermakers don’t return a lot of big play wide receivers. Brycen Hopkins and Cole Herdman, though, combine to create a solid and reliable tight end duo, and the quarterbacks will have plenty of safety valves within the aforementioned running back cadre. Throw 4-star and significant big play threat Rondale Moore in (Brohm has already discussed the true freshman and his potentially big role), and a largely untested Northwestern back four may be sent reeling.

2) The run game will come together cohesively

There’s plenty of talent in Purdue’s running backs room. Tario Fuller started the season with an 100 yard game last year, but was quickly injured. Seniors D.J. Knox and Markell Jones stepped in, going for 561 and 566 yards respectively while collectively averaging 5.5 yards per carry. Junior Richie Worship was also in the mix before an early season injury derailed him. With Blough on the field, Purdue has five legitimate rushing threats, and if they can continually throw different looks at Northwestern they will almost certainly give the Wildcats some trouble on the ground. With enough talent coming forward, eventually somebody will break off a big one.

3) Northwestern’s season-opening woes will continue, with help from signature Brohm shenanigans

Last year, in Purdue’s first season of the Brohm era, the Boilermakers dropped a tight one to Louisville and Lamar Jackson 35-28 in a trick play-laden season opener. They couldn’t get the victory in the end, but the performance showed that Jeff Brohm had brought a change to this team. Northwestern took down Nevada for their own opening win, but struggled, and turned around to get immediately crushed by Duke in week 2. Pat Fitzgerald is running out of potential explanations for the early struggles of his teams in recent years, and if he can’t figure something out quickly, Brohm’s innovation will swing the coaching battle. The game might just go along with it.