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Film study: Three key factors in NU’s win over Purdue

Quarterback pressure, limiting Purdue’s weapons and team discipline helped seal Northwestern’s week one victory

NCAA Football: Northwestern at Purdue Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

You never really know what to expect from any team in the first week of the season, but Northwestern-Purdue was a unique game in many facets. From one of the weirdest QB situations Northwestern has faced to the game ending on a late hit, it certainly wasn’t a standard game. But, despite the funky situations, the game was decided in more of a conventional manner than it may seem. Here’s a look at how NU exploited Purdue and left West Lafayette with an important win to open the season.

Quarterback Pressure

The box score may only show two sacks, but the efforts of Joe Gaziano and co. were crucial in multiple swing plays in this game.

Starting with the interception by J.R. Pace on the first drive of the game, NU puts pressure on the Purdue offensive line, attacking the weak side of the play. This allows Nate Hall to shoot the gap, moving Sindelar back toward the pressure. Sindelar then is forced into a quick decision without much time to think, he throws into double coverage and Northwestern gets an interception. Yeah, it could’ve been pass interference, but the credit goes to the defensive line here.

On the third interception, a similar play unfolds. This time, Northwestern again pressures the weak side of Sindelar. Astutely, he shifts away from pressure, but Paddy Fisher is there to limit his movement. Sindelar gets pushed back towards pressure, and Alex Miller is right there to get the hit. Sindelar makes a silly decision to try and make a Johnny Manziel-esque throw, resulting in a Montre Hartage interception.

On Purdue’s final drive, Jordan Thompson and the Northwestern front seven is able to make a massive play. On a critical third and 11, NU rushes only three players. Still, those three are able to apply pressure from both ends. Not only do they draw a holding call, but David Blough is forced out of the pocket and toward the sideline. With eight defenders dropping back for Northwestern, the coverage merely needs to be average. Sure enough, it is, and Blough runs out of time as Thompson is able to close him down towards the sideline.

NU proceeded to produce a phenomenal drive lasting just short of eight minutes, and, with a little help from Lorenzo Neal, the Wildcats are able to close out the game.

Minimizing Purdue’s Weapons

Coming into the game, I saw the Purdue tight ends as possible problems for NU. While Rondale Moore absolutely lit up the NU defense, NU limited the tight end corps to a single catch for seven yards.

In exchange for allowing Rondale Moore plenty of space, Northwestern eliminated Purdue’s other threats, for the most part. While the defense didn’t necessarily want Moore to go off like he did, it conceding targets to Moore to help the team in the bigger picture.

Looking at the final play of the third quarter, we can see one way that NU chose to defend Brycen Hopkins, a big target and a red zone threat. On third and 12 at the Northwestern 17, NU allows Hopkins to come under the coverage, but contains him well short of the first down marker. On many occasions, Paddy FIsher or a different linebacker ran with Hopkins, but in this instance, Fisher recognizes that Hopkins is running a drag, and leaves him. When he catches the ball, he’s well short of the line to gain.

In the play below, you can see how he would have been covered had he gone down the field. Notice Cole Herdman, Purdue’s other tight end, who is lined up on the right side of the offensive line. Northwestern trails him in this instance, and effectively takes him out of the picture for David Blough.

So. despite all that we saw from Rondale Moore, it wasn’t the end of the world for the Northwestern defense from a gameplan standpoint.

Team Discipline

This section applies to both Northwestern and Purdue. Penalties played a major role in this game. Northwestern tallied six penalties for 56 yards, while Purdue racked up 9 for 95, including one that basically ended the game.

After Northwestern turned the ball over on downs in the fourth quarter, Purdue had the ball at its own 30. Down by four with 10 minutes left, Purdue needed a good drive. On the first play of the series, Purdue seemingly moved the chains with a completion up the middle, but the play was nullified due to an ineligible receiver downfield. This penalty occurs when an ineligible receiver (usually a lineman), is three yards beyond the line of scrimmage at the time of the pass. It’s a gray area penalty, but it isn’t hard to avoid. On this play, it killed Purdue’s momentum. Dennis Edwards, the left guard, was the culprit here.

In another instance, Purdue tried to get aggressive at the end of the first half. With 37 seconds left, Purdue passed the ball for nine yards and got out of bounds. This put the offense in optimal position to push Northwestern and try to steal some points. But, yet again, Purdue committed a silly penalty. The Boilermaker left tackle, Grant Hermanns, had Gaziano forced around the outside of the quarterback. Unnecessarily, he held Gaziano and killed the momentum of the drive.

On the ensuing play, Purdue gained fourteen yards. Had Hermanns not held, the offense would’ve been at midfield with plenty of time, especially considering the Purdue kicker has a strong leg.

Finally, and this is an obvious one, but it has to be included. On the brink of giving Purdue one last chance at winning the ballgame, senior linebacker Lorenzo Neal committed an atrocious penalty. After stuffing Jeremy Larkin on third and 11, he threw Larkin down well after the whistle blew, drawing a personal foul and effectively ending the game.

Purdue fans thought there was a bit of acting involved there, but it was a downright boneheaded penalty. It was emblematic of a building trend throughout the game, and it hurt Purdue in the worst way.