Football: NU loses to Purdue because of a penalty ridden two-minute defense


Noah Frick-Alofs/Daily Senior Staffer

Aidan O’Connell drops back to pass. The sophomore led Purdue to a 24-22 win over Northwestern on Saturday at Ryan Field.

Charlie Goldsmith, Reporter

All Cameron Ruiz did was get his feet tangled with Purdue wide receiver David Bell.

With just over a minute left in the game and Northwestern up by a point, the sophomore cornerback was in one-on-one coverage with Bell, the Boilermakers’ leading pass catcher. On a fourth-and-four play from the 39, quarterback Aidan O’Connell threw a deep post route. Ruiz was right there. So was Bell.

Chasing down the ball, they tripped each other, and a pass interference call in the Boilermakers’ favor gave the visitors the ball at the 24 and a chance to kick a game-winning field goal. Purdue (4-6, 3-4 Big Ten) ran down the clock, made the kick and won the game 24-22 over the Wildcats (1-8, 0-7).

“The difference was discipline and the self-inflicted wounds with all the penalties,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “The penalties on that two-minute drive was what gave them enough yards to make the field goal.”

When the defense is on the field, NU’s offense usually huddles on the right half of the sideline and makes adjustments. But after Charlie Kuhbander missed a 32-yard field goal with 2:30 left, the offense stood with the rest of the team on the sideline to see if they could get a game winning stop.

All season, NU has lost because of its offense. With the lowest scoring average in the NCAA heading into the game, the Cats have lost by 20 or more points in each of their previous three games.

Saturday, the roles were reversed. NU’s offense scored enough to win, and all the Cats needed was for the defense to get one last stop. But instead of sealing the victory, the defense produced one of the most frustrating drives of the season.

The Cats committed two penalties in the final 90 seconds that placed Purdue in field goal range. After Boilermakers quarterback Aidan O’Connell completed two passes to start the drive and make it to the NU 40, NU did the rest of the work for them. On second-and-10 with just over a minute left, the Cats gifted Purdue 15 yards when cornerback A.J. Hampton got called for pass interference.

But the Boilermakers were only at NU’s 45 yard-line, needing to gain fifteen to give their kicker a chance at a game winning field goal. After gaining just six yards over the next three plays, Purdue’s back was against the wall on fourth down.

That’s when O’Connell went deep to Bell, who drew an interference call on Ruiz that put Purdue on the 30-yard line. Three plays later, Boilermakers kicker J.D. Dellinger hit the 39-yard game winner.

“I saw Bell line up inside the numbers, and I played him slightly outside,” Ruiz said. “He ran the (post) and I thought our feet just got tangled up and tripped. But the ref called PI.”

In Purdue’s game-winning drive, the offense gained over half of its yards from pass interference calls. NU would have won the game if its defense got the stop, but instead the defense blew the save for the first time all season.

Last season, the Cats were one of the most disciplined teams in the country. They had just 2.9 penalties per game, the lowest average in the country. But after multiple season ending injuries on the defensive line and several members of the secondary in and out of the lineup, there hasn’t been the same consistency on defense.

“It looks like we’ve got a lot of guys who were pressing, trying to do too much,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s a byproduct of our record, byproduct of some youth and inexperience, byproduct of coaching. We’ve got to be better there without a doubt. Then, to me, it’s confidence and trusting yourself. That’s the bottom line.”

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