Purdue looks to halt Northwestern’s four-game roll
EVANSTON, Ill. — Northwestern would gladly take a win without the overtime. But the Wildcats aren’t complaining.
They head into Saturday’s game against Purdue with a spot in the record book after becoming the first FBS program to play three consecutive overtime games and win them all.
“When you’ve been through overtime before, it makes you more comfortable in that situation,” defensive lineman Joe Graziano said.
The Wildcats (6-3, 4-2 Big Ten) are second in the Big Ten West after winning four in a row. But the past three games are what put them in the record book.
And they looked right at home in OT against Nebraska last week. Clayton Thorson sneaked into the end zone on fourth-and-1 for the go-ahead touchdown. The defense then came up with a sack and pass breakup while preserving a 31-24 victory.
That came on the heels of a wild finish against then-No. 16 Michigan State. Thorson threw a 22-yard touchdown to Flynn Nagel and Nate Hall — with 30 stitches in his left hand — intercepted Brian Lewerke in the end zone to seal a 39-31 win after Graziano stripped the quarterback on that play. A week before that, Thorson scored from the 1 after a 23-yard reception on third down by Justin Jackson to lift the Wildcats over Iowa 17-10 in OT.
Purdue (4-5, 2-4) beat Illinois last week to snap a three-game losing streak. But quarterback David Blough dislocated his right ankle and will miss the rest of the season.
Here are some things to know as Northwestern looks to keep its win streak going against the Boilermakers:
ONE-MAN SHOW: Purdue coach Jeff Brohm spent most of this season using a two-quarterback rotation. Don’t expect to see it again. With the Boilermakers missing their most experienced starter in Blough, Brohm will turn to the other quarterback, Elijah Sindelar, for the next three games — and perhaps a fourth.
“While he (Sindelar) was disappointed he had not been starting the last couple weeks, he practiced well,” Brohm said. “He’s continued to work hard. I think he’s excited about the opportunity to play.”
Sindelar will be backed up by Jared Sparks, a redshirt freshman who is listed on the depth chart as both a receiver and quarterback.
MILESTONE IN REACH: Northwestern’s all-time leading rusher, Justin Jackson, needs 202 yards to join Wisconsin’s Ron Dayne as the only Big Ten players with four 1,000-yard seasons. Jackson ranks sixth on the conference’s career rushing list with 4,927 yards.
BY THE NUMBERS: Under Brohm, the Boilermakers have already surpassed last season’s overall and conference victory totals. The defense is allowing 19.4 points fewer per game, the biggest improvement in the Football Bowl Subdivision, and 94.0 yards fewer rushing per game, the nation’s seventh-best improvement. They are running for 63.1 yards more per game than in 2016, the eighth-best turnaround in the nation. The most important number is this: Purdue has seen its crowds increase by 12,589 per game, a big turnabout from the steadily dwindling numbers of recent years.
CASHING IN: Northwestern has scored on all 17 trips to the red zone during its win streak and converted four against Nebraska — three touchdowns and a field goal. The Wildcats are now 34 of 36 on the season and rank 10th in the country in red zone efficiency.
‘”‘I think offensively for the most part, (it’s) taking care of the ball, first of all,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “Being able to run it somewhat efficiently down there. Pretty consistently kicking our red zone field goals.”
PRIME-TIME BOILERS: Purdue is 1-2 in its first three night games this season, beating Ohio University at home and losing to Louisville in Indianapolis and Nebraska at home. But the Boilermakers are 2-0 when playing Northwestern under the lights. Purdue also has allowed a total of 120 yards rushing over the past two games.
Northwestern, however, is comfortable throwing the ball and won its only other night game this season, 49-7 over Bowling Green.