Football: Wildcats roll past Purdue 45-17 for bounce-back win


Sophie Mann/Daily Senior Staffer

Trent Goens returns an interception. The pick was the first of the redshirt freshman’s career and one of four the Wildcats recorded against the Boilermakers.

Tim Balk, Managing Editor


WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – When a third quarter interception by junior linebacker Anthony Walker gave way to a 42-yard Northwestern touchdown pass, junior running back Justin Jackson had to do a double take.

“It was weird because we were sitting on the bench and then got the interception, next play Garrett (Dickerson) scored, and we were right back on the bench,” Jackson said. “I was like, I feel like we were just here. Pretty cool to go out there and be effective offensively.”

It was that kind of day for the Wildcats (5-5, 4-3 Big Ten), who rolled up more than 600 yards of offense and managed four interceptions on the road in a 45-17 blowout win over struggling Purdue (3-7, 1-6).

The touchdown pass from sophomore quarterback Clayton Thorson to his junior superback gave NU a 28-10 lead and put the Cats squarely in the driver’s seat, sending streams of Purdue fans at Ross-Ade Stadium to the exits with more than 26 minutes of football still left to play. It was also part of a dominating third quarter in which NU scored 21 points.

The performance ended a two-game losing streak for the Cats, who entered the day off a 21-7 loss to No. 7 Wisconsin.

“Losing’s not fun,” Jackson said. “We definitely needed this game.”

The win was made possible in part by an improved performance from the offensive line. Against Wisconsin, NU ran the ball for just 39 yards and struggled to protect Thorson.

“We go as our offensive line goes,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “We got pretty well-handled against Wisconsin, and I thought that group really responded well today.”

The line carved out enough holes for Jackson to roll up 127 rushing yards while his backup, redshirt freshman John Moten, picked up 119. The two are the first pair of rushers to each run for 100 yards in the same game for NU since 2013. Thorson, meanwhile, had enough time in the pocket to manage a career-high 352 passing yards.

The Cats reversed a recent trend on the other side of the ball as well, as their defense entered the day without a turnover in the past two games.

“You get tired of Coach Fitz yelling at you in practice about getting turnovers,” said junior linebacker Anthony Walker, who grabbed one of the interceptions.

Sophomore cornerback Montre Hartage led the way with a pair of picks.

“We had a little fun today,” Hartage said. “Played with more energy than last week.”

NU overcame an early 10-0 first quarter deficit en route to the win, but took the lead by halftime and used the big third quarter to take control.

Unlike against Wisconsin, when Thorson was forced to attempt to mount an unsuccessful fourth quarter comeback, the signal caller spent much of the final frame against Purdue watching from the sideline as the team ran out the clock.

“It was completely different,” Thorson said. “It’s nice to see some guys get in there and play.”

Thorson and the Cats had most things go right Saturday and now sit only one win away from bowl eligibility. If NU can continue to capture turnovers and maintain its strong line play, it should be in good shape when it heads to Minnesota next week. But Fitzgerald noted that the team will need to avoid a slow start.

In each of the Cats’ last three road wins, they’ve trailed at the end of the first quarter.

“It’s something we continually talk about — about starting fast,” Fitzgerald said. “We can’t (start slow) in Minneapolis. We do that, we’re going to get blown out.”

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @TimBalk