As certainly no one expected, the Big Ten West is completely up for grabs again. After taking down Illinois last week, Purdue is now in the driver’s seat to play in Indianapolis in December. Standing in the Boilermakers’ way are Northwestern and Indiana, who currently sit at the bottom of the Big Ten West and East, respectively. Inside NU got the chance to talk to Hammer and Rails’ Andrew Ledman, who shared some insight on Purdue going into Saturday:
Inside NU: Two weeks ago, Purdue lost 24-3 to Iowa. Now, people are talking about the Boilermakers as the potential Big Ten West champs. What did Purdue change to bounce back against Illinois, and do you think they will win the West?
Andrew Ledman: Honestly much like Northwestern, the play calling has a lot to do with it. Jeff Brohm gets so absorbed in throwing the ball 50 times a game that sometimes he forgets that Purdue has developed a competent running game. When Purdue can find a balance on offense they do much better. Devin Mockobee seems to be getting better each and every week, and when Jeff Brohm gives him the opportunity, it opens things up for the offense. AOC also cut down on his mistakes against Illinois, with only one interception after throwing three against Wisconsin and two against Iowa. Cutting down those errors really allowed the defense to have more time to rest which with a unit as thing at places as this defense is means a lot. Also, against Illinois, Purdue decided to open up the playbook and run a bit of an option, which saw AOC do some running which, while not pretty, got the job done.
INU: The Aidan O’Connell and Charlie Jones combo has lit it up so far this year, who else stands out among that offense?
AL: As I mentioned earlier, Devin Mockobee has been the surprise of the season. Purdue desperately needs a competent running game in order to survive as such a pass happy offense. If teams don’t have to respect the run at all it makes things so much more difficult for the wide receivers and the QB. His emergence has allowed Purdue to really open things up on offense. Just as important to the team though has been the continued emergence of Payne Durham. This might seem like a no brainer given that he had an excellent season last year but this year he’s near the top in most categories for tight ends. He’s been a crucial target in the red zone and has made lots of big plays with the game on the line. His catch and run at Maryland allowed Purdue to find a way to punch in one more TD that it desperately needed.
INU: Purdue has played in six one-score games, holding a 4-2 record in those matches. The Boilermakers narrowly lost to Penn State and Syracuse, both of whom have been ranked this year, but also only beat Florida Atlantic by two. Is this a team who plays to the level of its opponents, or is there another factor? Is there anything or anyone in particular that’s enabled them to come out on top?
AL: I think there are two factors that have largely held Purdue back. One is their lack of discipline. At the end of the Syracuse game it looked all but over after Purdue scored a touchdown with just 51 seconds left to take the lead, but thanks to a bunch of boneheaded penalties, Purdue had to kickoff from basically their own goal line and allowed Syracuse great field position, which ultimately led to a last second touchdown and Syracuse victory. This is related to my second factor which is just that the defense, the secondary in particular, seems to just have mental lapses. Including the Syracuse game, the end of the half TD against Penn State, the end of the game TD against Penn State and two instances at Maryland, Purdue has allowed five TDs with under a minute to play in a half or game. Purdue lost two of those games but miraculously survived the Maryland game thanks to a missed two point conversion. It’s been a wild season. The secondary just seems to forget what they are doing sometimes and allow big play after big play. Then they’ll turn around and force three three and outs in a row against Illinois. No one is really sure what this defense is doing.
As far why they seem to be able to come out on top I think they do have a lot of talent on offense. You mentioned Charlie Jones, but he’s truly been phenomenal. From an also-ran-on-the-Iowa-offense for two years to a 1,000 yard receiver here at Purdue, just a great story. Add to that AOC’s ability to sling the ball all over the field with a good tight end in Payne Durham and an emerging running back in Devin Mockobee and Purdue has a chance in any game they play in.
INU: Purdue is definitely one of the more high-flying offenses in the Big Ten, what can Northwestern do to slow them down?
AL: If Northwestern can slow down Charlie Jones, it can cause AOC to become flustered. Slow down Jones and then get some pressure on AOC and he will likely make mistakes. Having a guy like Jones, or in previous years David Bell and Rondale Moore, obviously is better than the alternative, but for AOC, I think most people agree he uses these guys too much. He locks onto them to the detriment of the offense and the rest of the receiving corps. I’m not sure if it’s just a lack of trust with his other receivers or what but AOC can become laser focused on Jones. Plus, with pressure AOC is not exactly the fastest guy in the world back there.
INU: On the other side, what can a Wildcat offense that’s been mostly dormant do to attack this Boilermaker D, and is there anyone in particular Northwestern fans should watch out for?
AL: You mentioned in your answers, which can be found at Hammer and Rails, that Northwestern’s offense really runs though Evan Hull. Purdue has done a decent job this year slowing down the running game of their opponents. They held Chase Brown to under 100 yards last week. Northwestern’s best bet is to attack the secondary of Purdue because, as I mentioned, they’ve got some problems. If Northwestern can find a way to go over the top on this secondary, they might be able to put up some points. If they simply focus on running the ball though, I trust the Purdue defense to be able to slow them down. Plus, it doesn’t sound like you have too much faith in your offensive coordinator to be creative which obviously bodes well for Purdue.
INU: Lastly, what’s your score prediction for Saturday?
AL: As discussed more fully in our latest podcast episode, this NU team doesn’t truly scare me. I really hope that Purdue can take care of business and Purdue fans can go into next week’s game against IU with a chance of somehow despite all the craziness finding themselves in Indy for a game against either Ohio State or Michigan. Purdue 42 - Northwestern 14.