Opponent Preview: Purdue

By Eli Berk

The Wildcats continue their trek through the Big Ten West as they host the Purdue Boilermakers on November 20. Taking place at Wrigley Field, in their final “home” game of the 2021 season, they look to shut down a divisional foe in hopes of capturing a second straight appearance in the Big Ten Championship and third in the last four years. The last time these two met, the ‘Cats were ranked #23 and defeated the Boilermakers in West Lafayette by a score of 27-20.

Purdue is in search of a bounce-back season after a 2-4 campaign in 2020, not winning a game after Halloween night. The Boilermakers were the first team to score on Northwestern in the second half of any game last season, and they look to capitalize on their growing offensive production.

Keys to the Game

  1. Own the Skies

Purdue had roughly equal quarterbacks in terms of production in the 2020 season with Jack Plummer and Aidan O’Connell both falling just short of 1000 yard seasons. They also added UCLA transfer Austin Burton to their roster in full contention of holding the starting role. The return of David Bell to their receiving corps makes them incredibly dangerous through the air. In addition to their increasing threat in the passing game, Northwestern has an uphill battle to find replacements for the countless veterans lost on the defensive side of the ball, including long-time DC Mike Hankwitz. In their 2020 showdown, cornerback Greg Newsome II shut down Bell and forced Purdue to run the ball, but with his career continuing as a member of the Cleveland Browns, the new Sky Team anchored by safety Brandon Joseph will be an integral part of the Wildcats’ success in this game. Keeping the ball on the ground and giving the offense favorable field position on every drive will be a major part in walking out of Wrigleyville as victors.

  1. Push the Pace

Mike Bajakian’s offense is making strides going into 2021 with plenty of high-rated recruits to aid Hunter Johnson in the backfield. This game should energize tons of Wildcat fans, with this matchup taking place on the 11-year anniversary of the last time Northwestern played at the corner of Clark and Addison. With high spirits both in the stands and on the sideline, getting to the line quickly and running a tempo offense will be huge to dictate the pace of the game. 

The last time Purdue beat Northwestern in the state of Illinois was in 2007, a time when most current recruits were barely starting preschool. However, this may be Pat Fitzgerald’s toughest test yet to defend his turf. Should the rest of the season go in Northwestern’s favor, the Big Ten West title may be up for grabs in this showdown, so owning every drive and limiting mistakes will help ensure the Wildcats with postseason football.

Prediction: Northwestern 27, Purdue 23