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Rapid Reaction: Northwestern advances to 4-0 with 27-20 win over Purdue

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The victory sets up a massive showdown with Wisconsin next weekend.

Courtesy of Purdue Athletics

WEST LAFAYETTE, Indiana — No. 23 Northwestern (4-0) proved itself once again on Saturday night, getting the better of the Purdue Boilermakers (2-1) in a 27-20 victory. With the win, the Wildcats advanced to 4-0 for the first time since 1996 and kept the top spot in the Big Ten West.

Quarterback Peyton Ramsey carried his team to a solid win on 23-of-36 passing for 212 yards, three touchdowns and one interception with six attempts for 21 rushing yards. Unlike its first three matchups this season, Northwestern’s run game was insignificant, totaling 83 yards on 39 attempts across seven different rushers. Isaiah Bowser and Drake Anderson combined for just 32 yards on the ground while Bowser added 20 through the air.

Despite the slow afternoon on the ground, eight different receivers combined for 212 yards, led by Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman, who finished the day with eight catches, 86 yards and three touchdowns. Chiaokhiao-Bowman’s multi-touchdown day was the first from a Wildcat receiver since Flynn Nagel in 2018 and the first three-score day since Austin Carr in 2016.

As it has been all season, Northwestern’s defense was reliable, especially in the red zone, holding a potent Purdue offense to just 20 points and pressuring quarterback Aidan O’Connell to limit the explosive passing game. The unit held the Boilermakers to just two (!) yards rushing and limited star receiver David Bell to nine receptions on 16 targets for 78 yards. Chris Bergin led the Wildcats with nine tackles while Eku Leota had a standout day with three tackles, two for loss, two sacks and a forced fumble.

Northwestern put together a clean opening drive, with offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian utilizing both the run and pass to move the ball downfield quickly. Ramsey engineered 75 yards over 14 plays in six minutes. After drawing Purdue offsides on a fourth-and-one, he capped the drive with an eight-yard touchdown throw to Chiaokhiao-Bowman.

The Wildcat defense also had an impressive statistical half, allowing only 106 yards. A Northwestern punt from its own end zone handed the Boilermakers the ball on the NU 38-yard line, but Mike Hankwitz’s defense held Purdue to just a field goal.

To open the second quarter with the wind at his back, Ramsey connected with several receivers to get the ‘Cats into field goal range. Charlie Kuhbander then nailed a career-long, 46-yarder to regain the touchdown advantage.

However, the weather and momentum soon shifted late in the half with Purdue having a second-quarter stretch similar to Nebraska’s from last week. The Boilermaker defense picked off Ramsey on a tipped ball. Then, on fourth-and-one at the Northwestern 40-yard line, Jeff Brohm fooled NU’s defense as O’Connell found tight end Garrett Miller wide open for a touchdown to tie the game at 10.

Despite the rough stretch, Ramsey quickly turned things around, going 7-for-7 to lead Northwestern on another touchdown drive. He found RCB for another score to give the ‘Cats a 17-10 halftime lead.

Just as David Bell began to heat up for Purdue early in the second half, Leota stripped O’Connell from behind and Paddy Fisher picked up the ball and returned it to the Purdue 18-yard line. For the third time on the night, Ramsey hit RCB for a five-yard touchdown, extending NU’s lead to 14.

Zander Horvath then got in the action. Two chunk plays from Purdue’s leading rusher and a 20-yard gain from Bell put the Boilermakers inside the 10, but Northwestern’s defense held them to three once again. The Wildcats answered back to start the fourth with a 42-yard field goal, increasing their lead to 27-13.

Horvath continued to pose a problem for Northwestern’s defense late in the game, as he helped his team march down field to cut Northwestern’s lead to seven. O’Connell found Milton Wright for the 14-yard touchdown with under eight minutes to play.

As time wound down, Northwestern’s offense couldn’t stay on the field, forcing its defense to battle down to the wire. With three minutes remaining and trailing by seven, Purdue put together a last-second effort to send the game to overtime, but another Leota sack put the game away for the Wildcats.

O’Connell finished the day 28-for-51 for 263 yards and two touchdowns and a fumble. Horvath added nine receptions for 100 yards and 10 attempts for 21 yards on the ground.

Northwestern will return home to host No. 13 Wisconsin at Ryan Field next weekend in hopes of clearing itself a wide path to the Big Ten Championship.