Rapid Reaction: Northwestern pulls off 21-14 win against Purdue despite problems

Stephanie Kelly, Managing Editor

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In a game expected to be easy for Northwestern, the No. 18 Wildcats (8-2, 4-2) struggled to pull together their 21-14 senior day win against Purdue (2-8, 1-5).

What went right:

For most of the game, not very much.

The Cats’ run game continues to be stronger than during a midseason slide following last week’s explosive production. NU racked up a dominant 250 yards Saturday, led by sophomore running back Justin Jackson with 116 yards and a touchdown. Junior running back Warren Long followed with 52 yards and two scores.

Redshirt freshman quarterback Clayton Thorson also showed solid running ability throughout the afternoon. On the Cats’ third touchdown drive of the game in the fourth quarter, Thorson rushed for 32 yards, capped off by a Jackson touchdown run.

NU’s other two scoring drives showed the offense’s capabilities. The first drive of the game saw effective rushes and passes, with starting quarterback Clayton Thorson showing his poise, along with a 32-yard run to the end zone by Long. The Cats also capitalized on an interception in the second quarter by senior safety Traveon Henry.

Senior defensive end Dean Lowry continued to be a key contributor, putting pressure on Purdue quarterback David Blough numerous times.  However, it was sophomore middle linebacker Anthony Walker who led in total tackles with 14, including a vital fourth quarter sack on a Purdue third down.

What went wrong:

Looking at both sides of the field, the Cats could neither pass nor stop Purdue’s passes.

Backup quarterback senior Zack Oliver replaced Thorson late in the third quarter, following an interception and a generally lackluster first half by the redshirt freshman. Oliver completed two passes for 50 yards immediately upon getting on the field, but after that the senior was unable to make big plays, failing to complete any of his following attempts. Thorson returned to the game midway through the fourth quarter.

NU’s pass rush wasn’t helping the Cats either, with Blough attempting 45 throws and completing 26, mostly unharassed. The Boilermakers’ passing yards totaled 287 compared to NU’s 132.

What it means:

Although NU pulled it off in the end, a hard-fought battle against unranked Purdue makes a win against No. 25 Wisconsin next week seem much harder. That game will prove whether the Cats are able to come back to their standard level play after facing unexpected adversity.

Email: stephaniekelly2017@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @StephanieKellyM

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