Football: Wildcats look to keep undefeated season going against 2-0 Purdue


Evan Robinson-Johnson/Daily Senior Staffer

Pat Fitzgerald and the Northwestern Wildcats prepare to sprint onto the field. Fitzgerald is 7-4 against Purdue in his head coaching career.

Greg Svirnovskiy, Senior Staffer


For most of the last five years, Northwestern has had the upper-hand when facing off against Purdue.

Going into last season’s matchup at Ryan Field, the Wildcats hadn’t lost to the Boilermakers since 2010, recording five straight victories. NU won in different ways — sometimes decisively. Like the 45-17 drubbing they laid on Purdue in West Lafayette in 2016, when Clayton Thorson threw three touchdowns to go along with 352 yards and Justin Jackson rushed for 127.

Mostly, the Cats won small, close victories and one score games. In 2015, 2017 and 2018, each of NU’s wins against the Boilermakers came by ten points or less.

That all changed last year when J.D Dellinger’s 39-yard field goal put Purdue ahead of the Cats with three seconds left to play. NU had led for virtually the entire game, but was hampered by poor quarterback play and an ill-timed missed field goal by now-senior kicker Charlie Kuhbander.

A year later and, fresh off its first 3-0 start to a Big Ten season since 2000, NU (3-0, 3-0 Big Ten) is set to match up Saturday in West Lafayette against an undefeated Purdue (2-0) squad. And the Boilermakers are looking to repeat last year’s results.

“It’s gonna be again like last week, a huge challenge,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “Even more difficult now, going on the road against a team that’s 2-0. They’ll be well rested, they’re gonna get some of their guys back that have been banged up.”

Purdue’s offense is getting a major boost. Fitzgerald expects Purdue’s wide receiver Rondale Moore, who could not play for his team’s first two games due to a hamstring injury, is set to make his first appearance in nearly a year.

When healthy, Moore can transform any offense. He broke Purdue’s record for most all purpose yards (313) in his first collegiate game against the Cats back in 2018. He’ll join forces with David Bell, who has already put up 243 receiving yards and four touchdowns this season.

“To play a very explosive offense with arguably the best wide receiver in the country,” Fitzgerald said. “And then, we’ll anticipate seeing an all-American returning to play against us. Horvath, the way he’s running the ball, physical.”

The Cats are expecting to see a pass heavy offense. Through Purdue’s first two games of the season, quarterback Aidan O’Connell has thrown 85 passes, 60 of them completions, for a total of 653 yards and 5 touchdowns.

Senior defensive end Earnest Brown IV, said that means the Cats’ front seven is going to have more chances to get after the quarterback.

“This team has passed the ball more than any other team we’re gonna face,” Brown said. “We’re looking for those pass plays to come and we’re gonna take advantage of them. We have Eku (Leota), (Adetomiwa Adebawore), me, Chris Bergin. We’re hoping that I’ll take that advantage to get that pressure long to get to the quarterback and get those sacks that we’re always wanting.”

Brown and the front seven help lead a defense that has shut down opponents this season, especially in the second half. The Cats have yet to allow a single point all season in the third and fourth quarters of games. They’re limiting opponents to an average of just 12 points per game. More impressive, the defense has allowed just one passing touchdown all season.

Adebawore has already doubled last season’s total with two sacks on the year. Brown has gotten in on the action too. He’s recorded four tackles, 2.5 of them for a loss, to go along with three assists.

“The rotation is really good. We’ve got a good bunch of guys coming in and being behind,” Brown said. “We’re coming off little injuries but that’s not gonna stop us in any way.”

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @gsvirnovskiy