Coming off four straight losses, including a 35-7 defeat last week at the hands of the No. 15 Wisconsin Badgers, the Wildcats will face off against the Purdue Boilermakers at the home of the Chicago Cubs this Saturday. Can the ‘Cats pull off the upset in Wrigley to create some momentum going into rivalry week? Here’s three reasons why they will and three reasons they’ll fall flat once again:
Why Northwestern will beat Purdue
Purdue’s play style could work in Northwestern’s favor
As I assume you already know from the headaches it’s given you this year, Jim O’Neil’s run defense is by far the worst in the Big Ten. Fortunately for the ‘Cats, Purdue’s run game is non-existent. As a team, PU is averaging 2.5 yards a carry and has the same number of total rushing touchdowns on the year (5) as Michigan State’s Kenneth Walker III put up in a game a few weeks ago in Ann Arbor.
In addition to the Boilermakers being one-dimensional on offense, they have also struggled defending the run, allowing 4.5 yards a carry, good for second-worst in the conference while still a full yard better than the Wildcats. This means that NU should have no trouble getting the ball out of the hands of the struggling Andrew Marty (or whoever it is that starts at QB on Saturday) and into those of Evan Hull, which may allow Northwestern to control the time of possession and produce a low-scoring game. Given the Wildcats’ offensive struggles this season, keeping the point total low would be a massive win.
The Cats are in full blown desperation mode.
It’s been a helluva two years since Pat Fitzgerald said that “this type of record will never happen again,” following the ‘Cats’ 3-9 2019 campaign. With only three total wins and one Big Ten win this year, the resemblance is uncanny between the two disappointing seasons.
This year’s struggles should have Fitzgerald and his team in desperation mode, as they hope to gain what would easily be their best win of the year and create some much needed momentum going into 2022. Accompanied by the fact that the game being at the historic Wrigley Field, the pressure to succeed should have the Cats fired up and engaged all week, which is definitely not a given for a team with a 3-7 record.
Purdue has played down to their opponents before.
After their wins against multiple top-five teams in Iowa and MSU, Jeff Brohm’s team has been deemed the “Spoilermakers” for a reason (neglecting the massacre that occurred in Columbus last weekend). It is clear that Purdue comes to play for big games, especially on the offensive end, but looking back at their games this season, it is apparent that the boys from West Lafayette might compete a little less intensely when the stakes aren’t so high.
This was evident in both their loss to Minnesota and their four-point, come-from-behind win against Illinois. They scored only 13 points in each game despite averaging over 30 in the three top-five matchups they’ve had. If this trend continues on Saturday, the Wildcats chances increase greatly, as a low-scoring game might be the only route to an upset victory.
Why Northwestern won’t beat Purdue
Aidan O’Connell and David Bell
With a conference-best 72.4 completion percentage on the year and a QBR of 87.0, it is safe to say that Aidan O’Connell is one of the most underrated QBs in the nation. After beginning the year behind Jack Plummer before fully taking the reins following PU’s comeback victory against the Fighting Illini, O’Connell has put together quite a senior campaign. The Illinois native is playing the best football of his career and has seemed to only improve as the season has progressed, with a combined 926 passing yards and seven touchdowns in the past two weeks.
O’Connell’s sensational numbers are in large part due to the play of his star receiver, David Bell, as he has scorched defenses all season to put him atop the Big Ten in receiving yards. The junior’s season has been much less of a surprise than his quarterback, seeing that he has been putting up numbers since he first stepped on campus, with a 1000 yard season in his freshman year and a productive sophomore campaign. Bell surpassed his freshman year receiving yard mark in East Lansing two weeks ago with 11 catches for 217 and a touchdown, and he’s now averaging over 120 receiving yards a game.
The dynamic duo has wreaked havoc all year and will definitely be test Brandon Joseph and the rest of Northwestern’s secondary, who have already been stretched thin due to the front seven’s inability to effectively stop the run.
Northwestern will need to score
Northwestern’s offense has been dreadful this season. I’m not saying NU had elite units in 2017 or 2019, but those teams look like the 1996-97 Bulls compared to the offense that Mike Bajakian has trotted onto the field 2021. As I stated earlier, the duo of Aidan O’Connell and David Bell are no joke, and the ten points the ‘Cats have averaged the past four weeks will not cut it. Despite the great opportunity for Evan Hull this weekend, Andrew Marty will have to make plays through the air, which is difficult to imagine given his track record this season (excluding that 20-minute stretch against Duke when he looked like a Heisman contender).
The Boilers are looking to bounce back following last week’s debacle
While a number of things would have to happen in order for them to win the Big Ten West (two losses for Wisconsin and one for Iowa), Brohm’s team could still technically be in Indianapolis in just over two weeks and, thus, they have something meaningful to play for here in late November. Regardless of whether the Boilermakers end up reaching the conference championship, with a bowl game on their horizon and two winnable games left on their schedule, this could be their first eight win season since 2007, so don’t expect them to already be thinking about 2022.
In addition to this, their 59-31 loss in Columbus last weekend was embarrassing and should serve as a wakeup call. The lopsidedness of the game last week should ensure that Brohm’s team will come prepared and won’t be looking past the Wildcats, despite their rivalry game at Indiana the following week.