The final installment of our 2019 summer guide is the Know Your Opponent series. We’ll take you through Northwestern’s fall schedule week-by-week, outlining the strengths and weaknesses of each opponent and identifying some key players to look out for. The series serves as a way for us to evaluate and take stock of the team’s upcoming opponents.
Next up is Purdue. The Wildcats last faced off against the Boilermakers when they traveled to West Lafayette last August. Former Northwestern running back Jeremy Larkin stepped into the shoes of Justin Jackson and Clayton Thorson (kind of) returned after tearing his ACL in December. The Wildcats struggled to keep up with breakout Purdue wide receiver Rondale Moore, but ultimately prevailed in a crucial 31-27 win to open the season.
Returning production: 54 percent, (Offense 37 percent, Defense 72 percent)
2018 record: 6-7 (5-4 B1G)
Coach: Jeff Brohm (42-23, 6th season)
The following metrics are courtesy of Bill Connelly and Football Outsiders (and now ESPN!). You can read more about the rankings and theory behind them here.
2018 S&P+ Overall: 44th
2018 S&P+ Offense: 17th
2018 S&P+ Defense: 88th
2019 S&P+ Projection: 58th
The Boilermakers had a decent season full of ups (beating Ohio State at home) and downs (losing to Eastern Michigan and getting blown out in their bowl game). Early on, first year wideout Rondale Moore captured the hearts of college football fans against Northwestern with an incredible performance, garnering 313 all-purpose yards in the first college football game he was eligible to play.
Purdue lost their first three games before winning their next four (including a dominating performance over No. 2 Ohio State). The Boilermakers finished tied for second in the Big Ten West with a 5-4 conference record and closed out the season with an embarrassing 63-14 loss against Auburn in the Music City Bowl.
Purdue brings back quarterback Elijah Sindelar, who started the season opener against Northwestern before eventually losing the spot to now-graduated David Blough. Blough, now with the Browns, put up some of the best passing numbers in the nation last year: his 285.0 yards per game were tied for 10th overall in the country. Moore certainly played a huge part in that.
The Boilermakers were ranked 18th in offensive S&P+ last year, but should take a step back while adjusting to a new starting quarterback. Sindelar failed to see the field after the team’s loss to Eastern Michigan in the second game of 2018. The 6-foot-4 QB has plenty of experience as he was the primary starter in 2017, but has struggled mightily with turnovers despite having an impressive frame and arm strength.
The Boilermakers also lost much of their offensive line but bring in highly touted receiver David Bell, forming a potentially explosive passing offense if Sindelar can find a rhythm under center.
The Boilermakers had the 88th ranked defense according to the S&P+ and have plenty of uncertainty surrounding this year’s unit.
Returning players Markus Bailey and Lorenzo Neal will look to have big seasons once again and the addition of freshman George Karlaftis who chose Purdue over Clemson, Alabama, and Michigan among many others, should have an immediate impact on the Boilermakers. Still, there’s plenty of work to do for a Purdue defense that allowed 30 points per game in 2018.
On top of that, last year’s defense gave up over 450 total yards per game — good for 113th in the country and second to last in the Big Ten behind only, you guessed it, Illinois. The 63-14 trouncing in the Music City Bowl certainly didn’t pad the unit’s overall stats in 2018.
Three Players to Know
WR Rondale Moore
Moore is returning for his true sophomore season after a prolific freshman campaign that ended with him becoming the first true freshman consensus All-American in Big Ten history. He also broke the Purdue record for most all-purpose yards in a season and had seven games with over 100 receiving yards.
DT Lorenzo Neal
Neal had four tackles when the Wildcats traveled to West Lafayette last August in addition to a crucial late hit on Jeremy Larkin to seal Purdue’s fate in that game. He is projected to go 12th overall in Todd McShay’s way too early NFL 2020 Mock Draft.
LB Markus Bailey
Bailey considered entering the NFL Draft this past season but eventually opted to return to Purdue for his redshirt senior season. He is a hybrid linebacker that can play in a variety of sets across the field and bring a level of consistency doing so that will make him fit well at the NFL level. Bailey led the Boilermakers in tackles against the Wildcats last August.