Rapid Recap: Purdue 17, Northwestern 9


Daily file photo by Alyce Brown

The Northwestern offense huddles together. After scoring just 10 points in two games, the Wildcats showed a little life late, but ultimately fell 17-9 on the road at Purdue.

Alex Cervantes, Assistant Sports Editor

WEST LAFAYETTE — In its penultimate contest of the 2022 season, Northwestern came up short for a 10th consecutive game, falling at Purdue 17-9.

Though the Wildcats’ defense remained competitive throughout all four quarters, NU’s offense, down its top-two quarterbacks, was unable to muster much production until it was too late. A pair of early Boilermaker touchdowns in the first half sealed the game’s fate, as the Cats’ final road contest in 2022 was capped off in defeat. 

Once again, NU (1-10, 1-7 Big Ten) failed to deliver a performance in which both its offense and defense put in positive displays. The team remains winless in the United States and will look to make a final, inspired stand next week when they host Illinois. 

Here are five takeaways from the Cats’ bout with the Boilermakers:


  1. Freeman’s first career start

With sophomore quarterback Brendan Sullivan and junior quarterback Ryan Hilinski sidelined due to injury, coach Pat Fitzgerald turned to Freeman in their stead. Saturday was Freeman’s first career start, and just his second on-field appearance in his NU career. He also became the third starter under center for the Cats in 2022.

Freeman’s first series ended in just three plays, but his second drive was more fruitful. The New Jersey native completed 3-of-7 passes for 26 yards and scrambling for an additional seven yards. Graduate student kicker Adam Stage capped off the drive with a field goal — the Cats’ only points of the first half.

Out of halftime though, Freeman’s youth shone, turning the ball over twice in a span of just over six minutes. 

On NU’s first drive in the third quarter, Freeman tried to fit a pass into a narrow window, but his throw was intercepted. Though Purdue’s Jalen Graham would take the pick all the way to the end zone, the six points were rescinded after he was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct for high-stepping. Minutes later, after foregoing a handoff to Hull, Freeman was stripped on a rushing attempt.

Freeman would finish the game throwing for 78 yards on 9-of-20 passing and 18 rushing yards.

  1. Boilermakers lean on ground game offensively

With 20-plus mph winds affecting both sides of the ball, Purdue leaned on its ground game to pick apart a Cats defense which entered Saturday conceding 200 rushing yards per game.  

Though leading rusher Devin Mockobee exited the game with an injury early in the game, Purdue was able to find ample success using a running back by committee approach. Six different Boilermakers attempted at least one rush in the contest, combining for 140 yards on 42 carries.

Purdue running backs Dylan Downing and Kobe Lewis led the way for the hosts initially, rushing for 42 yards on their opening drive before Aidan O’Connell would connect with wideout Charlie Jones for a touchdown. The Boilermakers would find success in the passing game late, but the efficient groundwork of the team’s backs laid the foundation for success.

  1. Purdue’s Jones held quiet

Purdue wideout Charlie Jones, the team’s leading offensive weapon, entered Saturday’s contest with 87 receptions for over 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns. Jones has torched opposing secondaries for much of the 2022 season, including four games of over 100 receiving yards against Big Ten opponents. 

Though his first quarter touchdown got the Boilermakers on the board first, Jones was largely held in check against the Cats. The efforts of junior defensive back Cam Mitchell in particular aided in NU stymying O’Connell’s favorite target. 

For just the second time this season, Jones was held under 50 receiving yards, hauling in six passes for 46 yards and a touchdown.

  1. NU offensive production comes too little too late

The Cats mustered just three points through three quarters of play Saturday. As the visitors learned in the fourth quarter, sometimes it’s just important to get the ball in the hands of your best playmaker. For NU, that’s junior running back Evan Hull as he recorded the team’s lone touchdown on the day.

Offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian called Hull’s number six consecutive times to open the final frame. Hull would take a quartet of carries up the middle for 17 yards before a 16-yard rush placed the Cats all the way at the Purdue 2-yard line. The Minnesota native then lined up in the wildcat and promptly waltzed into the end zone for six points.

Bajakian continued to look his way following a Boilermaker field goal which extended Purdue’s lead to eight points. All in all, Hull tallied 105 rushing yards on 22 carries and a touchdown, but his efforts weren’t enough to carry NU to a comeback victory. 

  1. Up next: the battle for the Land of Lincoln Trophy

If there’s one week where a season’s prior results mean nothing: it’s rivalry week. 

As NU gears up to host Illinois next Saturday, it’s difficult to accept how much these two programs have diverged in recent years. After the Cats defended the Land of Lincoln Trophy for a sixth consecutive time in 2020, Illinois steamrolled NU just a year later, 47-14. A very similar outcome could be in store on Nov. 26. 

Led by a stout defense and running back Chase Brown, who has over 1,400 rushing yards and seven touchdowns on the season, the Fighting Illini are still fighting for a Big Ten West title and will waltz into Ryan Field as a likely heavy favorite. Meanwhile, the Cats are simply attempting to salvage any moment in what has been an abysmal campaign.

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Twitter: @CervantesPAlex 

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