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Why Northwestern will/won’t beat Purdue

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The “won’t” section was a lot easier to come up with!

Northwestern v Purdue Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Northwestern football hit a new low against Indiana. To make things worse, it marked the third week in a row where things have somehow continued to bottom out. They got boat raced by the Buckeyes, shut out by Iowa and shellacked by a Hoosier program that just secured their first winning record since 1993.

Northwestern plays a fellow Big Ten bottom feeder this week—the 3-6 Purdue Boilermakers. The ‘Cats beat Purdue 31-27 in last year’s opener, when both programs seemed to be on the rise and ready to compete for years to come. Just a year and a half later, things have changed a lot for both sides. Now, the main thing at stake is dignity. So who is going to maintain theirs, and how?


Won’t

Because Northwestern’s Offense is Terrible

Original, I know. It turns out that you actually do need points in football to win, contrary to common belied. I promise to keep you updated on this breaking news and how Mick McCall adjusts his offense to accommodate for the revelation.

Jokes aside, this has continued to be the reason why Northwestern can’t beat anybody this season. I’m not going to bore you by re-listing the historically bad stats or examples of disastrous plays. You know it’s bad, I know it’s bad, we all know it’s bad. There is no reason to believe that the ‘Cats can muster any kind of scoring, which means that should Purdue take a lead, the game might as well be over. This team has not shown much of an ability to recover from deficits all year long, and especially over the past three weeks.

Purdue has been trending up (kind of)

I mean, two wins in four games isn’t anything to write home about, but it’s much better than the current situation here in Evanston. After a brutal 1-4 start that included blowing a lead against Nevada, the Boilermakers destroyed Maryland 40-14, got frisky and scored 20 on Iowa and beat a spiraling Nebraska team 31-27 last week.

Their only “bad” performance in recent games was a 6-24 loss to Illinois, who might just be our new co-overlords of the Big Ten West. So who knows anymore?

The Boilermakers also still have something significant to play for. At 3-6, it’s still mathematically possible for them to make a bowl game and to even finish with a winning record. Purdue’s victory over Nebraska gave their fans reasons to hope, which is not something Northwestern fans can say about their team.

Freshman wide receiver David Bell is a monster

First Rondale Moore, and now Bell? Since when did Purdue get all the fun freshman pass-catchers? Bell’s 51 receptions, 676 receiving yards and 4 receiving touchdowns are all team-leading statistics, as well as the best numbers among all freshman receivers in the Big Ten. He’s even 2nd overall in the conference in receptions and 4th in receiving yards.

It’ll most likely be a very low scoring affair in Evanston this Saturday, and an X-factor like Bell is the Boilermakers’ best chance to consistently keep the chains moving during a slugfest.


Will

The Wildcats finally won’t be the only team playing a third string quarterback!

Purdue’s starter at the beginning of the season, Elijah Sindelar, went down with a broken left collarbone about a month ago, and his replacement, Jack Plummer, was just ruled out for the rest of the season after he broke his ankle against Nebraska. That leaves Aidan O’Connell, who did just enough to conduct Purdue to a game-wining drive against the Cornhuskers.

O’Connell went 6 for 7 on passes for 62 yards against Nebraska, and he’s 14 for 21 on the season for 131 yards and a touchdown. Those stats don’t indicate a completely hopeless third-stringer, especially when you compare them to the atrocious numbers Northwestern’s passing game has put up in 2019. However, those are still the only passes he’s thrown in live action across his collegiate career, and Northwestern’s front seven may well be able to use that lack of experience to fluster him.

Purdue has been ravaged by injuries

The Boilermakers currently have a whopping 15 players listed as injured, according to Sports Reference. I already mentioned the two quarterbacks, and all-purpose dynamo Rondale Moore hasn’t played since September. The team’s best defensive lineman, Lorenzo Neal, has missed the entire season. Starters Jared Sparks, Viktor Beach and Markus Bailey are all expected to not suit up against the ‘Cats this Saturday. The Wildcats have certainly been bitten by the injury bug, but not nearly as badly as their Saturday opponents.

Northwestern might be able to establish the run game on offense

The three best games Northwestern has played this year were the win over UNLV, the nine-point loss to Wisconsin and the buzzer-beating loss to Nebraska. The Wildcats were three rushing yards against Wisconsin away from rushing for at least 100 yards in each of those contests. Even still, they still finished with 510 yards on the ground total against those teams, good for an average of 170 per game.

The past two weeks Northwestern has only mustered 151 rushing yards total, averaging out to 75.5 yards per outing. Purdue is ranked 68th in the country with 163.4 rushing yards allowed per game. That mediocre defense combined with a relatively equal level of talent on both sides of the line means that Northwestern might be able to run the ball effectively on Saturday, and consistently positive gains on the ground just might be enough to eke out a win.