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Inside the Play: Jeremy Larkin’s huge run

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In which Jeremy Larkin humiliates two Purdue defenders in one play.

Northwestern v Purdue Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

It’ll be easy to remember the frustration that came with NU’s unresolved quarterback situation or the anemic second-half play of the offense against Purdue. Let’s remember the good times. Jeremy Larkin is the truth. He ripped off 143 yards and two touchdowns and hauled in four passes for 20 yards as well.

It’s not time to hail Larkin as Justin Jackson 2.0 quite yet, but the sophomore has proved to be quite the talent, with impressive straight-line speed and great instincts.

The highlight of the night was Larkin’s 46-yard scamper in the first quarter to set up NU’s second touchdown.

Let’s take a closer look into what went into Larkin’s big gain:

The Breakdown

Here are the pre-snap alignments:

NU goes five wide, with trips left and Larkin split out in the slot. Purdue counters with their base 4-3 defense. It looks a little wonky because both of Purdue’s defensive ends are standing up — No. 92 Giovani Reviere is in front of left tackle Blake Hance and No. 98 Kai Higgins looks like a linebacker shadowing Jeremy Larkin. Star linebacker Markus Bailey is covering the slot just above the Purdue logo.

Larkin goes into motion and stands alongside Thorson in the backfield.

This looks like a classic read option with Thorson reading the unblocked man, Higgins (No. 98). The wrinkle is that right tackle Rashawn Slater is pulling, while right guard Tommy Doles handles DT Keiwan Jones (No. 50). Hance and left guard J.B. Butler handle the other two Purdue defensive lineman while center Jared Thomas heads to the second level.

At the decisive moment, Hankins is completely frozen and is on the wrong side of Doles if Thorson hands the ball to Larkin. Considering Hance and Butler have executed on their blocks and Thomas is on his way, it’s an easy decision for Thorson. The problem is linebacker Derrick Barnes ripping into the the backfield before Slater can get to him. The play is supposed to be a sweep over left tackle, but Barnes is about to meet Larkin in the backfield.

Here’s what Larkin sees as he’s about to be handed the ball:

Larkin cuts back into the huge hole the offensive line has created. Barnes has now overrun the play and Slater can easily wall him off.

Then as safety Jacob Thieneman (No. 41) comes to clean this up, Larkin makes another awesome cut. Body count: one.

Thieneman flies by Larkin, and the sophomore running back is off to the races. Freshman JJ Jefferson holds his block nearly 15 yards downfield and Larkin doesn’t get caught until about the 20-yard line, where he delivers a vicious stiff arm.

Seriously, Larkin almost puts Tim Cason in the turf with his stiff arm, Marshawn Lynch-style. Body count: two. He’s taken down at the 13 after a 46-yard carry. Three plays later, John Moten IV scored to put NU up by two scores.

Takeaways

Larkin proved to be quite the package just on this one play. He shows great vision, seeing Barnes was going to blow up the sweep and cutting back to find open grass. He put Thieneman in the turf with a nasty cut. Larkin eventually got run down by Purdue’s defenders, but not before he sends Cason stumbling backward with a stiff arm. Quite the bag of tricks.

It’s also worth noting that the offensive line did a great job holding their blocks and neutralizing Purdue’s front four at the point of attack. NU’s front five looked good in the first half, paving the way for Larkin and giving Thorson and TJ Green a clean pocket. They struggled to impose their will as the game progressed, but I was impressed by the line’s play from kickoff, especially because the unit has been bad at the beginning of the past two seasons.