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Stock up, stock down from Northwestern’s close victory vs. Purdue

It wasn’t always the best-looking, but continued positives from the team in purple.

NCAA Football: Purdue at Northwestern Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports

Despite a mistake-laden affair, Northwestern (6-5, 4-4 Big Ten) pulled away from Purdue (3-8, 2-6 Big Ten) 23-15 courtesy of 17 second-half points. Here were the bright spots and areas to clean up from the Wildcats in their penultimate regular-season game.

Stock Up

Cam Porter

Responsible for the only touchdown of the first half, Porter got things going early on his senior day, trotting in a seven-yard score to cap off Northwestern’s opening 4 play, 53-yard drive to take an early lead. Later, he tacked on a 34-yard score, making him the first NU player with two rushing touchdowns since Evan Hull in September 2021. Though the offense struggled to capitalize, Porter remained productive, averaging 5.6 yards per carry on the day, and ending with 95 yards on the ground.

As the Wildcats move into their last game of the year, Porter’s impact as a focal point of the up-and-down offense will be key to determining just how much of a success this surprising season will be for David Braun and Co.

Pass Rush

Though many will focus on the lackluster scoring from both of these offenses in this game, give credit to both Purdue and Northwestern’s respective defenses, especially in getting pressure. The two defensive units combined for three sacks and eight tackles for loss.

The pass rush was especially effective for Northwestern when it came to the passing game, as they effectively shut down Ryan Browne and Bennett Meredith, who combined for 136 yards through the air and two interceptions.

4th-Down Defense

The “bend-don’t-break” defensive mentality was definitely applied to Northwestern’s defensive effectiveness in the team’s win today, as it managed to hold a Purdue squad who outgained Northwestern by 114 yards to just 15 points.

What was especially important for Northwestern’s defense today was its ability to stall Purdue’s drives into Northwestern territory. Despite having 56% of its plays in NU territory, Purdue ended with three turnovers on downs, two interceptions and a missed field goal. Even though Northwestern wasn’t perfect, it made plays when it mattered most, and held its own.

Stock Down

Contain Defense

At first glance, it may look like Northwestern’s defense absolutely locked down Purdue’s offense today. While that may be true scoring-wise, the Boilermakers actually had a very productive day — until they got into scoring position, that is. The Boilers had 443 total yards, including 303 on the ground. Even if they only managed to give up 15 points on the day, it’s still a major concern for the Wildcats to be yielding over 300 yards rushing.

Big plays were a big part of that Boilermaker success, atoo: Purdue had six plays of 20 yards or more, breaking down Northwestern’s defense when they got a tempo going. Containing these big plays has to be a point of emphasis for David Braun going forward.

Special Teams Units

Despite the bowl-sealing win, Northwestern played far from perfect football today. A big part of that was the repeated mistakes coming from the special teams, many of which were easily avoidable. Whether it was the muffed snap on their first extra point try, a kickoff out of bounds, or A.J. Henning’s near-disastrous fumble, the Wildcats have a lot to work on.

After a near-perfect showing against Wisconsin, there were a lot of avoidable mistakes from the Wildcat side. Luckily, Purdue was never really able to make use of the opportunities given to them, but special teams is a must-fix, especially after the way the ‘Cats looked today.

(Red Zone) Offense

In spite of some late offensive scores, on the whole the offensive output was nothing short of disappointing from both sides today. Against a defense ranked dead last in the Big Ten in points allowed per game (31.1) in Purdue, Ben Bryant and the ‘Cats’ offense simply was not able to churn much out following a dominant first drive.

What was especially discouraging was an inability to capitalize in the red zone. Despite having an average field position of 35, the ‘Cats were unable to put themselves in good position on a consistent basis, averaging 8.1 yards to go on third down. Though Northwestern was able to get things done today thanks to a stingy defensive effort, the Wildcats will need to take advantage of every major opportunity they get, especially during bowl season.