Play ball! Though it’s been a rough season for Northwestern thus far, the Wildcats will make their long-awaited return to Wrigley Field this Saturday to take on Purdue. The Boilermakers have had an eventful 2021 campaign highlighted by wins over Iowa and Michigan State. Here are three things you need to know about NU’s Big Ten West foe before the ‘Cats take them on at the corner of Addison and Clark this weekend:
After some early uncertainty, they’ve got their QB
If you watched PU in its upset of Iowa, you probably noticed that the Boilermakers featured three different passers: Aidan O’Connell, Jack Plummer and Austin Burton. While O’Connell was, at that point, already Jeff Brohm’s go-to man under center, he’s further solidified his position to full on starter in recent weeks despite the fact that he began the season playing second fiddle to Plummer.
O’Connell, who had to work his way up into near-full-time duties, is fifth in the Big Ten in both passing yards and passing touchdowns. He played a major part in both of the Boilermakers’ signature wins this year, tossing for 375 yards and two touchdowns on 30-of-40 passing against Iowa and putting up a whopping 536 yards and three scores through the air versus Michigan State. He’s still not the most mobile signal caller, and, as such, Brohm will occasionally turn to Plummer or Burton in situations that warrant more agility. But make no mistake about it: Aidan O’Connell is Purdue’s quarterback.
They’ve got star power on both sides of the ball
You might’ve been wondering how, exactly, O’Connell put up such monumental numbers against the Hawkeyes and Spartans. In reality, he had quite a bit of help, and no player was more conducive to his success than wide receiver David Bell, who has been inarguably one of the best receivers in the conference and nation this season. Bell boasts a conference-leading 1106 receiving yards on 75 receptions, five of which have gone for scores. As a result of the massive upside he’s shown in college, he’s a prime prospect that multiple NFL teams are sure to be looking at.
On the defensive side of things, Purdue has a bonafide gamebreaker on its defensive line in George Karlaftis. The junior has forced and recovered two fumbles while contributing an additional 2.5 sacks and 28 tackles in 2021, and has made his way into the top 10 picks of many experts’ NFL mock drafts. Combined, Bell and Karlaftis show that the Boilermakers can produce incredible talent.
PU’s still in play for the Big Ten Championship (technically)
While it might seem that Northwestern is simply playing for a morale boost on Saturday, its opponent still has some legitimate stakes on the line at Wrigley. Despite having three losses in conference play — the latest a 59-31 walloping at the hands of Ohio State — the Boilermakers could still book a trip to nearby Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship Game.
Here’s what Purdue needs in order to secure a Big Ten West title:
- First, PU will have to win against NU on Saturday and at home versus rival Indiana (which currently lacks a conference win).
- It’ll also need Wisconsin to drop its final two games of the season to Nebraska and Minnesota.
- Lastly, the team known adoringly by some as the Spoilermakers will need Iowa to drop one of its two remaining games against Indiana and the Huskers.
So, while it might not be likely, it is possible for Purdue to win its division for the first time in program history so long as it wins against the ‘Cats!