Another week, another one-possession win for the ‘Cats over a West division rival. For three quarters it was largely pretty, only for Purdue to mount a small push in the fourth that ultimately fell short. Halfway through this most unregular regular season, Northwestern has completely flipped the script from its disastrous 2019 campaign. Here’s your stock up and stock down from tonight’s win.
The senior wideout always had potential, but tonight was the best game of his career. Eight catches for 86 yards and three touchdowns is impactful production that Northwestern hasn’t gotten from a wide receiver in a long time. No matter what Purdue threw at him, RCB dusted them horizontally, vertically and even made catches sliding to the ground with defenders draped all over him. For a team whose offense is known for consistency and stability rather than breakout performances, Chiaokhiao-Bowman played the role of a superstar in West Lafayette.
The defensive line
As the one defensive unit that has been somewhat maligned by fans and media so far this season, Marty Long’s guys stepped up over and over again in key spots. Eku Leota was sensational with two sacks and a diving forced fumble that set up the third touchdown of the night, and Adetomiwa Adebawore once again flashed his skill position speed by chasing down Purdue running back Zander Horvath in the open field despite starting several yards behind him. Overall the entire position was up to the snuff, allowing only two yards (!) on 34 attempts (including sacks) and forcing quarterback Aidan O’Connell into several uncomfortable circumstances.
Greg Newsome — shutdown corner and king of trash talk
Purdue’s star receiver David Bell posted an acceptable line of nine catches for 78 yards. However, if not for Newsome, there’s no telling what Bell would have done to the NU secondary. Following a short exit for Newsome due to injury, Bell immediately caught two balls for solid gains. The star corner forced the Boilermakers to target Bell 17 times to get those requisite receptions, made several key deflections, absolutely laid a dude out in the open field and let the whole Purdue sideline know how well he was playing the entire night.
Honorable Mentions: Peyton Ramsey, Charlie Kuhbander, tickets (?) to Indianapolis, game-opening drives
The run game
What was the team’s calling card in its first three victories was a weakness at Ross-Ade Stadium as the Boilermakers caused disruption in the backfield at will. Of particular note were scampers and sweeps to outside, which almost always ended in six-yard losses for Anderson and Bowser, save for the occasional give to Kyric McGowan. The ‘Cats finished with 83 yards and an average yards per carry of 2.13, a far cry from the 205.3 yards per game they averaged coming into the matchup.
The main antagonist to the usual strong suit of Hankwitz’s defense was running back Zander Horvath, who at 6-foot-3, 230 pounds is a tough tackle for any unit. Still, there were far too many instances where Wildcat defenders either let the bulky back bounce off tackling attempts or flat out whiffed with dives at his feet. In particular, Horvath converted a fourth down conversion in which he was at first stopped, only to surge forward through a crowd of white jerseys. It kept the Boilers’ drive alive on their way to cutting the Northwestern lead to seven. Given Wisconsin’s historically dominant track record when it comes to running the ball, tackling miscues won’t cut it next week.
No matter what your over eager youth football coach might have told you, recovering fumbles is almost completely random and dependent on unpredictable bounces of the ball. That’s why the ‘Cats should thank their lucky stars that both balls they put on the deck tonight wound up back in their arms. Drake Anderson’s cough up was a guaranteed scoop and score for the Boilermakers had the ball not popped right back to him, and Ramsey’s only occurred due to a puzzling choice to try and flip the ball to his check down while he was quite literally inches from the ground. Fortunately, Sam Gerak landed on the football, avoiding disaster.
Honorable Mentions: The second half shutout streak, Penn State, Indiana weather, penalties