Aerial attack warnings in effect

Teddy Kider

Two weeks ago, everything was perfect in West Lafayette, Ind.

Purdue was an undefeated team on its way to at least a Rose Bowl berth, and senior quarterback Kyle Orton was well on his way to collecting the Boilermakers’ first Heisman Trophy.

But things change.

Orton’s best bet at a major award is now the Davey O’Brien, and No. 17 Purdue (5-2, 2-2 Big Ten) is tied with Northwestern (3-4, 2-2) for sixth place in the conference.

After heartbreaking losses to Wisconsin and Michigan, the Boilermakers will be looking to snap a two-game losing streak Saturday at Ryan Field. And NU coach Randy Walker, released from the hospital Wednesday, will try to grab his first career win against Purdue on Homecoming.

The Wildcats’ defense will have to set the tone against Orton and his 12th-ranked offense, composed of dangerous receivers such as senior Taylor Stubblefield.

“Both Wisconsin and Michigan played a lot of man and bump-and-run against them, and that took away a lot of the routes that they like to do,” NU defensive coordinator Greg Colby said.

NU’s secondary is coming off its best statistical game of the season, having allowed just 178 passing yards by Wisconsin.

But the unit still is ranked 105th in the nation, and defensive backs must be aggressive in order to stop Orton from completing his favorite cross-routes.

The Cats’ defensive line also will have big responsibilities: stopping junior running back Jerod Void, who’s averaging 62 yards per game, and making sure Orton doesn’t scramble.

NU’s best bet on defense would be to force turnovers, as Purdue had five in its two losses. But the Cats have just nine takeaways this year, which ranks 98th in the country.

Purdue brings a defense that lost eight starters from last season but has built itself into the nation’s14th-best scoring defense.

“You would think that on defense they wouldn’t have that swagger or that confidence,” NU quarterback Brett Basanez said. “But they play like they’re one of the best in the Big Ten.”

NU running back Noah Herron needs to have his usual 100-yard performance against the 10th-best rushing defense, which has allowed just 95.4 yards a game.

And the Cats’ offensive line has to protect Basanez from Purdue’s feisty and aggressive defensive line.

“They blitzed Michigan last week an extensive amount,” NU offensive coordinator Mike Dunbar said. “They’ve always blitzed us in the past with a combination of zone blitz and man blitz.”

Basanez will be looking to get NU’s passing game back on track after a 16-of-37 performance — including 5 for 18 in the first half — at Wisconsin.

Purdue’s 85th-ranked passing defense might provide the perfect opportunity for some tune-ups.

Reach Teddy Kider at [email protected].

No. 17 Purdue at Northwestern

when: 11 A.m. Where: Ryan field Tickets: Available WEather: PArtly cloudy, high 60 degrees tv/radio: espn/ wgn (720 a.m.)