It was never pretty, but 18th ranked Northwestern rallied late to knock off upset-minded Purdue 21-14 in a game that was closer than expected at Ryan Field. Here’re our quick post-game thoughts from the Press Box:
- Perhaps the most interesting moment of the game was Northwestern choosing to insert backup QB Zack Oliver in place of a slightly struggling Clayton Thorson. Oliver came in and gave Northwestern a bit of a spark before throwing a pretty bad looking interception, and looking rather poor from then on. Thorson soon reentered the game, and led the Wildcats to a tight victory. Pat Fitzgerald had shied away from pulling Thorson during early season struggles, but it appears that he chose to do so today. It’ll be interesting to see what Fitz says about Thorson’s status in the postgame press conference, as Thorson was clearly the key to Northwestern’s late touchdown drive. The decision to insert Oliver seemed questionable at best at the time, and even more so in hindsight.
- Clayton Thorson’s mobility might be his biggest asset this season. On a huge 3rd down on the final touchdown drive, Thorson scrambled outside the pocket and then cut back upfield for a crucial first down. Thorson finished with just 89 passing yards, but his 54 yards on the ground were crucial.
- I spent the whole pregame show bashing Purdue football, but I have to say, the Boilermakers were not as bad as advertised. David Blough has some talent, and after a terrible opening drive, I thought Purdue did a good job of limiting Northwestern’s offense.
- Northwestern’s defense. Man. On a day when Northwestern’s offense did more harm than good, NU’s defense stepped up big time, especially following Wildcat turnovers.
- Justin Jackson continues to run really well and was finally able to get in the end zone today. Jackson had just one rushing touchdown coming into today, but finished with 119 yards on the ground.
- Punting is hard. Both sides really struggled in the special teams, Hunter Niswander and Purdue punter Joe Schopper spent the game trading ugly punts, although Niswander was able to crank out two big punts with the wind at his back. Schopper finished with 7 punts for an average of 30.7 yards, while Niswander finished with 5 punts for an average of 42.3
- It wasn’t just the Oliver situation that was questionable from Pat Fitzgerald today. The Northwestern also used a timeout that can best be described as ill-advised. With the clock running under 10 seconds on a 4th down for Purdue, Fitzgerald called timeout, giving the Boilermakers a chance to get a play-call in for the final play of the half.
- Darrell Hazell had some questionable game management decisions, but I liked the overall offensive game plan for Purdue. Blough wasn’t asked to do too much, and while it was certainly a conservative one, and it didn’t work out in the end, for the most part, it worked keeping the Boilermakers in the ball game a lot longer than many expected.
- Good turnout from the student section today. Despite it being an 11 AM kickoff against Purdue, almost a full section was filled and the students were loud for the vast majority of the contest.