Top passing games collide

Matt Baker

Junior quarterback C.J. Bacher and his receivers have been torrid this season, leading Northwestern to the top of the Big Ten in passing yards and total offense.

Only one team comes close to the Wildcats’ 326 yards per game:

Saturday’s opponent, Purdue.

The Boilermakers (6-2, 2-2 Big Ten), led by senior quarterback Curtis Painter, enter Saturday’s game second in the conference in passing yards per game (298), first in scoring offense (35.8 points per game) and third in total offense (434 yards per game).

“Purdue is as good as anyone in the country at not only changing up there protections but also getting rid of the ball quick, getting the ball out to their weapons,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “When you watch them spread the ball around, it’s a very big challenge for us. Curtis does as good a job as anybody in the country spreading the ball out, getting rid of the ball on time. (He) handles pressure well, so it’s going to be a great challenge for our defense.”

To disrupt Painter’s passing game, NU (5-3, 2-2) is looking to continue the defensive pressure it showed in last week’s 26-14 win over Eastern Michigan.

The Cats’ pursuit Eagles quarterback Kyle McMahon resulted in their eighth sack of the year and four turnovers for the game – NU’s most since the 2005 Sun Bowl.

“Our theme for this week is to get pressure on the quarterback,” junior defensive tackle John Gill said. “That will help us create turnovers and disrupt the pass game. They have a really, really good pass game, so everything we can do to disrupt that is going to help.”

Cooling off the Boilermarkers’ hot offense will be key to give NU a chance to win its fourth straight game Saturday, but the defense will need some help from a special teams unit that gave up three kickoff returns of more than 40 yards last week against Eastern Michigan.

The coverage team will have to rebound quickly: Purdue is ranked second in the nation in kickoff returns (28.3 yards per return).

Senior Dorien Bryant, who is second in the conference with 1,371 all-purpose yards, already has one touchdown off of a kickoff return this year.

To land its sixth win of the season and get the Cats bowl eligible, NU’s offense will need to recover from its 26-point performance against Eastern Michigan. The Cats will get a boost with junior running back Tyrell Sutton likely starting in the backfield but are looking for another strong game from the passing offense.

Bacher has passed for almost 1,400 yards over the past three games and ranks third in the nation with 2,598 passing yards on the season.

While the game figures to be NU’s third high-scoring shootout in the last four weeks, Bacher said he trusts the defense to keep Painter in check.

“Our goal every week is to ourscore our opponent – whatever it takes,” Bacher said. “Whether it’s 50 points or three points, that’s what we’ve got to go out and do.”

Reach Matt Baker at [email protected]