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The Daily Northwestern

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Football: What to Watch For: Northwestern welcomes Purdue to Ryan Field for final home game of 2023

Daily file photo by Angeli Mittal
Northwestern huddles together during its game at Wisconsin. The Wildcats host Purdue in their penultimate contest of the 2023 regular season and their final home game.

It’s officially a new era in Evanston. 

On Wednesday, Northwestern announced it had officially promoted David Braun to head coach, dropping the ‘interim’ label the University had tabbed him with on July 13 following the firing of Pat Fitzgerald. The announcement comes just days after Braun’s title was the subject of dozens of “#removethetag” posts on X, formerly known as Twitter, from Wildcats players and fans following a commanding 14-point victory over Wisconsin.

Now, Braun prepares to coach his first official game on Saturday helming NU. Hosting Purdue on Senior Day, the ’Cats look to nab back-to-back wins for the first time this season and secure bowl eligibility.

“This group has found ways to stare adversity down, take 100% responsibility on being solutions-based, and just getting to work and caring about one another,” Braun said at a Monday press conference. “We’ve talked about writing our story; this group had an opportunity to write its own story. They’ve certainly done a great job with that so far.”

Here are three storylines to monitor ahead of NU’s clash with the Boilermakers.

1. Second half offensive momentum

In two of their last three games, the ’Cats piled on 24 first half points against Maryland and Wisconsin. Despite starting two different quarterbacks — graduate student Ben Bryant and junior Brendan Sullivan — offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian’s unit compiled 530 total yards and found the end zone six times in the pair of conference contests.

However, in the third quarter of both games, NU’s offense sputtered, amassing just 25 total yards and three points on six drives.

After explosive offensive displays in the first 30 minutes of action against the Terrapins and Badgers, Braun said the offense dove into conversations about how the team can carry its momentum into the third and fourth frames in the future.

“It’s something that I know our offensive staff is evaluating,” Braun said. “What do we need to do to start fast in the second half and close out games?”

2. On the precipice of bowl eligibility

The ’Cats are one win away from playing in the postseason for the first time since 2020.

Although NU is well positioned to make a bowl game due to the NCAA’s Academic Progress Rate, Braun’s squad has a pair of winnable matchups against Big Ten West foes to close the season. 

For Braun and his team, the prospect of bowl eligibility remains front of mind following the win over the Badgers.

“The ultimate carrot for this team right now is understanding that we only have two guaranteed opportunities left to be with this group,” Braun said. “This group wants to battle to ensure that we get an extra opportunity to extend this season. Our guys know what’s on the line.”

3. The (likely) last game at Ryan Field for several seasons

Insert Titanic meme: it’s been 97 years.

The nonagenarian cathedral of football that has seen the likes of Otto Graham, Darnell Autry and more don the purple and white will soon be demolished in favor of a more modernized and sleek stadium.

Arguments between supporters and opponents of the construction of Ryan Field aside, it appears increasingly likely that Saturday’s matinee affair will be the finale for the near-century old stadium. Braun said the ’Cats are motivated to commemorate the occasion with one final triumph. 

“There’s so much history and tradition at Ryan Field,” Braun said. “It’s only fitting that we ensure that we hold up and play at our best and send it out the right way. … I know our guys are motivated to ensure that we do it right.”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @CervantesPAlex 

Related Stories:

Football: David Braun named Northwestern’s permanent head coach

Football: ‘Alright I’m back’: Quarterback Ben Bryant returns from injury, leads Northwestern to 24-10 victory over Wisconsin

Football: Northwestern’s stifling defense silences Wisconsin’s crowd in 24-10 road victory

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