The Purdue Boilermakers will come to Evanston in week 10, and the Wildcats will look to take care of the perennial Big Ten bottom-dweller better than they did in 2015. The Wildcats were tied 14-14 after three quarters, and a Justin Jackson touchdown with under five minutes left proved to be the difference in the 2015 win.
Last season, the two teams met in Purdue and the Wildcats handed the Boilermakers a good ‘ol thumping with a 45-17 victory in West Lafayette. Both Jackson and John Moten rushed for over 100 yards, and Clayton Thorson threw for 352 yards and three touchdowns.
The Wildcats have not lost to Purdue since 2010, and the Boilermakers have just three Big Ten wins in the last four years. However, they are attempting to start a new era, firing head coach Darrell Hazell in October and replacing him with Jeff Brohm. Brohm previously served as the head coach at Western Kentucky, and is a former NFL quarterback.
The Boilermakers are returning last year’s starting quarterback, David Blough, for his junior season. Blough threw for 3,352 yards and 25 touchdowns last year, but he struggled with accuracy, throwing 21 interceptions (three of which came against Northwestern). Blough led the Big Ten with 279.3 yards per game, but he also averaged over 43 passing attempts per game. The Boilermakers went just 3-9, so they were frequently airing the ball out as they tried to catch up.
In the running game, the Boilermakers have some quality depth and a few different players that can hurt you. Junior Markell Jones is the incumbent starter coming off a down 2016 season in which he rushed for just 641 yards and 4 touchdowns. In his freshman season, Jones rushed for 875 yards and 10 touchdowns, but he dinged up his shoulder early in the 2016 season and never quite returned to his 2015 form.
In addition to Jones, Brian Lankford-Johnson provides a quick change of pace, D.J. Knox is coming off of a torn ACL, and at 6’2, 242 lbs, Richie Worship provides intriguing size. Tario Fuller didn’t do much last year, but also could factor into the backfield mix.
The biggest loss on offense comes in the receiving corps. DeAngelo Yancey graduated last year and was drafted in the 5th round of the NFL Draft by the Green Bay Packers. Yancey hauled in 49 passes for 951 yards and 10 touchdowns in his senior season, and was named to the 2nd team All-Big Ten by the media.
But Yancey wasn’t the only big loss among Purdue wide receivers. They also lost their other top three receivers from the 2016 season, and now the position is wide open. Seniors Gregory Phillips and Anthony Mahoungou are the leading incumbents, but neither player has over 500 career receiving yards.
Overall, the Boilermaker offense is well-accustomed to airing it out, more out of necessity than intent, but if things go well for them they have a decent running game to lean on.
The Purdue defense has seemingly nowhere to go but up after last season. The Boilermakers allowed a whopping 38.3 points per game — the worst mark in the Big Ten and one of the worst in the FBS. Most of the damage came in the run defense, with opponents averaging 238.4 yards per game on the ground against them last year.
Barring a drastic turnaround, Purdue is likely to struggle in that regard again this season, and that should play well to Northwestern’s advantage. Senior running back Justin Jackson is one of the more talented players in the conference, and he should have plenty of opportunities to succeed like last year against a weak Purdue front seven.
Purdue only allowed 207.2 passing yards per game to their opponents last year, which was roughly average in the Big Ten. Again, those numbers are likely skewed by the lopsided scores and significant amount of garbage time, but it’s interesting to note that their passing defense is not quite as paper-thin as their rushing defense.
The Boilermakers are consistently one of the worst Big Ten teams, and with the Brohm hiring they are clearly trying to rebuild their program. However, rebuilds are a multi-year process, and this team is likely to struggle once again in 2017. This is a must-win, or rather, a can’t-lose game for the Wildcats, and they should handle the Boilermakers in Evanston more comfortably than they did two years ago.