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Three things to know about Purdue

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Two of the conference’s biggest surprises this season are set to face off in West Lafayette.

Purdue v Illinois Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The ‘Cats will travel to West Lafayette with first place in the Big Ten West on the line. Like Northwestern, Purdue has exceeded expectations this year, defeating Iowa and Illinois before numerous positive tests up in Madison saw their Week Three matchup against the Badgers canceled. Here are some facts to know about NU’s Week Four opponent:

The Boilers have an incredible receiving corps

Wide receiver Rondale Moore is a first-round talent, and the Wildcats know that well. In his first ever start, he totaled 313 all-purpose yards against NU in 2018. The redshirt sophomore missed Purdue’s first two contests due to a hamstring injury after he was sidelined for the final eight games of 2019 with another injury. In his absence, David Bell earned All-American honors as a freshman and has continued his elite play with 22 catches for 243 yards and four touchdown receptions through two games. Milton Wright has added 13 receptions, 185 yards and a touchdown of his own while tight end Payne Durham, tailback Zander Horvath and receiver Jared Sparks have combined for 20 receptions and 186 yards. If Moore returns against NU, this talented group will only be more intimidating.

The defense has bent but hasn’t broken

Sound familiar? Much like the ‘Cats, Purdue has relied on timely plays to keep opponents out of the end zone. The Boilermakers gave up 20 points to Iowa and 24 points to Illinois yet yielded an average of 466 yards in the two contests (186 on the ground and 280 through the air) in addition to allowing 4.7 yards per carry. However, the defense has forced six turnovers, and the Hawkeyes and Illini only converted on 31% of third downs. Purdue’s red zone defense has also been extremely efficient thus far, forcing opponents to go just 7-of-12 inside the 20 with touchdowns on only 33% of trips.

This is their best start in a while

Purdue came into its season-opener as 3.5-point underdogs to Iowa, which is fairly surprising considering it was missing Moore and head coach Jeff Brohm, who had tested positive for COVID-19. After fending off a depleted Illinois team, the Boilermakers have started 2-0 for the first time since 2007 and 2-0 in conference for the first time since 2010. The last two decades have yielded only seven winning seasons, and Brohm, who has invigorated the program with his offensive scheme, is 19-21 in his fourth season as head coach. Purdue has not had a record better than 7-6 since the 2014 Big Ten divisional realignment and finished over .500 in only 2018. They’ve been a pesky bunch in recent years but are just 17-37 in the conference since the West Division formed.