It’s time for the return of our weekly postgame stock report. We’ll give you three things that looked good each week, and three that didn’t. Here’s our assessment after a season-opening win at Purdue:
Larkin was excellent last night. He opened the game with a touchdown on the first drive, and then he ripped off a huge 46-yard run on the next drive.
this is violence, jeremy larkin pic.twitter.com/mt1u9cOsJZ— patrick mayhorn (@patrick_mayhorn) August 31, 2018
That nasty open-field cut look familiar to anyone?
Northwestern’s offensive line struggled a bit in the second half, but Larkin displayed a knack for smart, patient running. He ended up with 143 yards on 26 carries and two touchdowns, including 40 yards on the game-clinching drive. It’s early, but I think NU fans can rest easy with the running back situation.
The defensive line
The front four was expected to be NU’s deepest position group, and a host of contributors showed out on Friday. Trevor Kent made an early impact in his first collegiate game by knocking away a pass at the line of scrimmage; he would later combine with Trent Goens for a sack. Jordan Thompson had a huge sack of David Blough in the fourth quarter to force a punt. Alex and Samdup Miller both knocked down passes and got hurries on the quarterback. The only guy missing is NU’s best defensive lineman, Joe Gaziano, who didn’t break the stat sheet last night but got a couple hits on Purdue’s QBs.
Northwestern doesn’t win this game if they don’t take advantage of Purdue’s mistakes. The Boilermakers were in NU territory on the opening drive when JR Pace picked off a bad throw from Elijah Sindelar — NU scored 11 plays later.
Then, after Purdue had closed the gap to 17-14 and forced a Northwestern punt, Nate Hall made an excellent interception. The next play was a 40-yard completion to Ben Skowronek and NU scored two plays later.
Great INT by #Northwestern #Wildcats LB Nate Hall (@NateHall32) vs #Purdue pic.twitter.com/vELBqGnI1y— Sleeper Athletes (@SleeperAthletes) August 31, 2018
Purdue kicked a field goal and NU punted, but then Elijah Sindelar made an inexplicable decision to throw across his body as he was being brought down by Alex Miller. Montre Hartage intercepted the pass and brought it back to the Purdue 29. Five Jeremy Larkin carries later, it was 31-17 before the half.
In the second half, NU’s offense grinded to a halt, but Purdue shot itself in the foot with penalties. Purdue’s final drive of the game ended before it started after an ineligible receiver started the Boilermakers with a 1st and 15.
Then, on the game-ending drive, Northwestern got first downs following two Purdue penalties. The most consequential play was when Lorenzo Neal tossed Jeremy Larkin to the ground after the whistle on 3rd and 11.
This penalty on 3rd and 11 effectively ended the game, as @NUFBFamily got an automatic first down and ran out the clock for the 31-27 win over Purdue: pic.twitter.com/wELI65zdJn— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) August 31, 2018
Purdue would have gotten the ball back with under two minutes to go, but instead, NU got a first down and ran out the clock.
And yes, it was a good call. Look at the referee blowing his whistle and signalling that the play is dead as Neal wraps up Larkin.
Anyways, exhale. It’s another cardiac, one possession win for NU, but its a win nonetheless.
Honorable mentions: Cam Green, Nate Hall, Greg Newsome II, pass blocking, Dr. Pepper’s new ad campaign, Rondale Moore, that Wildcat read option play that Larkin scored on
In the absence of any information, watching the way the quarterback situation was handled last night was, in a word, maddening.
There needs to be a really, really good reason for Thorson to be watching from the sidelines right now.— Davis Rich (@DavisRich1) August 31, 2018
Clayton Thorson started the game and led NU to consecutive scoring drives, going 6-for-7. Then, he was inexplicably absent as Purdue clawed its way back into the game. Thorson and Green continued to rotate throughout the game, and Northwestern’s offense couldn’t find any consistency to put the game out of reach in the second half, or score at all.
What’s more, when the game was on the line and NU needed to get one more first down, it was Green again who got the call. To Green’s credit, he got the job done and was admirable in a 7-of-11, 63 yard effort. He made an excellent third-down throw to Flynn Nagel to keep a third quarter drive alive, rebounding nicely from his first snaps, where NU picked up two penalties before it could get a play off.
After the game, Fitz said the team had a “clear plan medically,” with both quarterbacks rotating in and out of the game on a series-by-series basis. Thorson said part of the reason for the plan was to try to ease his knee back into game speed. Fitz said the situation would remain fluid moving forward.
It’s hard to criticize the coaching staff’s decision given it was apparently the doctor’s orders, but it’s frustrating knowing that there are no clear answers yet. The quarterback situation is still very vague, at least until Thorson is totally healthy. What is clear, however, is that NU can’t take another half off on the offensive side of the ball and expect to win.
Third down offense
NU executed all three of its third down conversions on its first offensive series, culminating with a Jeremy Larkin touchdown. They proceeded to go 3-for-14 for the rest of the game.
Things got especially bad at the beginning of the second half, when NU punted four straight times and registered only two first downs. Mistakes, like a botched snap by Jared Thomas, led to a couple third-and-longs, but NU also couldn’t convert when it had second and five or second and one on a couple of occasions. After dominating in the first half, NU’s offensive line wasn’t able to create the holes Jeremy Larkin needed to run through, and Northwestern struggled in power situations.
Trae Williams and the secondary (at times)
No. 2 corner Trae Williams got juked out of his shoes by Rondale Moore on two separate occasions.
Rondale Moore: College football's 1st ever August Heisman Trophy winner. pic.twitter.com/RnVtJw9wNr— Jim Weber (@JimMWeber) August 31, 2018
To be fair, I would have missed that tackle too, but Williams picked up a pass interference penalty as well and ended up getting benched in favor of Greg Newsome II, who was excellent in his first collegiate game.
JR Pace and Montre Hartage both picked up interceptions, but the NU secondary got picked apart for most of the first half when Elijah Sindelar wasn’t throwing the ball to the Wildcats. Purdue’s receivers seemed to have a lot of open space and plenty of cushions to find within NU’s zone.
The secondary deserves credit for being opportunistic and keying in on Rondale Moore in the second half — David Blough only threw for 74 yards. Still, there were a lot of missed tackles and open receivers, something NU will need to shore up moving forward.
Honorable mentions: Second half offense, downfield passing game, kick return game, anyone who tried to tackle Rondale Moore