Post-Game Analysis: Purdue
by Jonathan Hodges

Northwestern (5-4, 2-3) was in the fourth quarter and had the ball with a 17-14 lead over Purdue (7-2, 3-2), but much like the game earlier in the year against Michigan, things turned south very quickly for the 'Cats.  In the final quarter, Purdue outgained NU 220-4 yards and outscored the 'Cats 21-0 in order to come away with the 35-17 win that put them in the second tier of the conference and sent NU down into the mix with Illinois, Iowa, and Indiana - all fighting for a possible bowl berth.

In the first half, NU got down early, thanks to 4 turnovers, including 3 CJ Bacher interceptions (2 of them were tipped balls).  Purdue, though, was only able to convert one of those turnovers into points, and the Northwestern defense did an excellent job at shutting down the Purdue attack throughout the first half (and, in fact, throughout the first 3 quarters of the game).  The NU D held Purdue to a measly 182 yards through 3 quarters and allowed only two scores up until that point.  In the second and third quarters, the offense got out of its funk and started to move the football, getting 3 long drives all for scores (although there were an INT and fumble stuck in there in the second quarter), but the offense was being rather effective and putting points on the board - highlighted by the Thompson to Peterman hook and ladder play that tied the game prior to halftime.

Sutton's return was noteworthy, as he ran the ball 12 times for 72 yards (6.0 yds/carry) and also tacked on one catch for 19 yards.  Unfortunately, the 'Cats decided not to utilize him as much down the stretch.  In the fourth quarter, NU failed to get a first down as CJ Bacher went 1-8 with 8 yards passing with multiple balls dropped by receivers and a sack under pressure.  Earlier in the game, the pressure was on CJ as well as Purdue did a good job doing what they needed to do to stop the NU offense - rush the passer.  Purdue finished with 5 sacks on the day and 7 pass break ups, not to mention the 3 interceptions.  But in the end, it was NU that shot itself in the foot with an offense that was just unable to get the job done when it mattered (the 4th quarter).

Much like the Michigan game, NU was playing very well through three quarters (at least defensively) and had the lead, although down the stretch the offense couldn't get the job done (against Michigan the NU offense just turned the ball over, and against Purdue they couldn't gain a yard to save their collective life).  The Wildcat defense did an admirable job through three quarters, though, and effectively shut down the Purdue passing attack all day.  In the end, it was the Boilermaker running that did them in, with Jaycen Taylor racking up 157 yards and 2 TDs on the day to finish off the 'Cats - basically NU was playing the pass and once Purdue got the running game going, the NU D finally caved in.

In the big picture, it was reassuring that NU has played very close games against Michigan and Purdue up until the final quarter and has been in every game this season outside of the OSU game.  Prior to the season, many (including most Wildcat fans, and myself) didn't expect NU to play that competitively in every game.  In the final 3 game stretch, Northwestern has every opportunity to put itself into a bowl game - the three remaining NU opponents: Iowa, Indiana, and Illinois - all surround NU in the Big Ten rankings and if the 'Cats can win at least 2 of those games they will be in prime position for a bowl bid.

Player of the Game: Purdue RB Jaycen Taylor: 20 carries for 157 yds and 2 TDs, 1 catch for 14 yds.  It was the running game that set off the Purdue offensive explosion in the final quarter of the game that led to the 21 unanswered points that the Boilermakers put up to seal the win.  Until then, Purdue hadn't gone to the running game too much, and the passing game was effectively stymied by the NU defense.  Taylor (with his mohawk and cast on his left forearm) racked up the yards (including a run for 50 on the final back-breaking drive) and punched it in a couple of times.

NU Honorable Mentions:
RB Tyrell Sutton: 12 carries for 72 yards, 1 catch for 19 yards.  In his first significant playing time after the injury, it didn't look like he missed a beat (although he went down after a play midway through the game, but eventually came back and looked healthy) as he did his job when called upon.  Despite a Purdue defense that was keyed onto him, he averaged 6 yards/carry and gave the NU offense an extra spark.  Unfortunately during the 4th quarter he would not get a chance to touch the ball.
WR Eric Peterman: 2 catches for 10 yards and 1 TD, 3 rushes for 25 yards.  It doesn't show up on the stats sheet, but Peterman did all he could for NU.  He scored on the hook and ladder play right before halftime to provide a spark for NU, and he had some great end-around runs to rack up some yards and first downs.  Also, he did a solid job on punt return duty, grabbing 3 punts and returning one 10 yards (no longer do balls just go bouncing inside the 10 yard line).
WR Kim Thompson: 5 catches for 64 yards.  Didn't find the end zone, but he made the clutch catches once again (although CJ had a hard time getting the ball to him late in the game), and was involved in the hook and ladder play for one of NU's TDs.
DE Corey Wootton: 6 tackles, 2 TFLs, 1 sack, 1 PBU.  Finally, Wootton is making an impact on defense and disrupting some of the opposition's offense.  Unfortunately, late in the game Purdue went to the rushing attack when any NU pressure up front was neutralized.
NU Special Teams: Punting was excellent as Demos averaged 42 yds/punt with one inside the 20, and only 3 were returned for a total of 11 yards.  Kickoffs were handled by Villarreal who concentrated on shorter "pooch" kicks to around the 30, which were executed to a T - Purdue averaged just over 14 yds/kickoff return and was held onto their side of the field (despite coming into the game ranked 2nd nationally in kick returns).  Villarreal nailed a FG try and 2 XPs on the day.  And, finally, NU got a couple of nice kickoff returns - including the opening kickoff which was returned 49 yards by McManis.

What to Work On:
Fourth Quarter: For the second time this season, NU has lost a game in which it had a lead and control of the game in the fourth quarter.  Michigan racked up 14 against NU (and could have scored more, but ended up running out the clock), meanwhile Purdue put 21 on the board in the 4th quarter.  While the defense deserves some of the blame in terms of yielding those points, the NU offense did not to them any favors in either game.  Against Michigan, NU coughed up the ball 4 times in that last quarter, and against Purdue they gained 4 yards on 4 possessions, punting 3 times (Purdue had the ball following a punt to start the 4th quarter).  The offense must be able to at least hold onto the ball during the final period and not put the defense in a bad situation.
Offensive Mix: The key to stopping NU is completely obvious by now - pressure CJ.  He had a few unforced errant throws, but a large proportion of the bad throws were thanks to pressure.  In order to counter that, NU must call plays to counter it - which they did on a couple of occasions (a pass into single coverage to Ross Lane and a swing pass to Sutton that he took for 19 yards), but wasn't able to do later in the game.  Also, despite some solid running by Tyrell Sutton, NU stayed away from the running game - giving Purdue the perfect opportunity to tee up on CJ.  Again, a more effective mix throughout the game would help the offense a lot.
Offensive Line: They gave up 5 sacks and numerous other hurries/knockdowns - CJ's jersey was green already in the 1st quarter.  Bacher was obviously rattled for a good portion of the day - shown by his interceptions and 51% completion rate.  On most of those sacks, the OL just completely missed their man: 2 examples were Belding failing to see a blitzing LB run right by him and Mattes diving at a rushing DE but completely missing him.
Creating Turnovers (Defense): In a pass-heavy attack, interceptions will be thrown.  Therefore, the NU D must create some turnovers to counter-act that.  We saw NU defenders try to strip the ball all day, but the 'Cats couldn't come away with a fumble recovery.  Kadela was probably closest to an INT out of anyone, but outside of that NU defenders rarely were in a position to take the ball out of the air.  While NU got a semblance of a pass rush at times, they couldn't sustain the pressure and that led to Purdue dictating how the 4th quarter was going to run.  One turnover could have turned the game into NU's favor, but that one time never came.

Random Observations:
- Penalties: Once again, NU limited its self inflicted wounds (only 2 for 19 yards), and it paid off as Purdue committed a string of costly penalties (7 for 65 yards) that helped NU sustain some of its drives.
- Running Game: A key stat of the game was running yards: NU 89 - Purdue 220.  One may say, well NU is running a pass-heavy attack this year.  But, the fact is Purdue and NU are running very similar offenses this year and Purdue decided to start running the ball in the 4th quarter and it paid off.  Meanwhile, despite having Sutton averaging 6 yds/carry, NU stuck with the passing attack and watched the passing attack go 1-8 yielding no first downs in the final period.
- NU Receivers: Didn't have a great game, dropping a couple of balls in the 4th quarter that proved costly, and not putting up the numbers like they normally do, although some of that can be attributed to the throws they were attempting to receive.
- CJ Bacher: Not all 3 of the INTs were his fault, as the pressure was on, and 2 of the balls were tipped, but he wasn't on the mark for a lot of the day.  At one point he missed a wide open Ward down the field as he short hopped the ball to him, and his completion percentage on the day was about 50%, but in the most crucial time (4th quarter) he was 12.5%.
- Game Viewing: I definitely enjoyed the game viewing experience at Lion's Head Pub in Lincoln Park where there were a plethora of TVs and also a good amount of 'Cats fans.  I'll definitely head back next season, even if Comcast makes the BTN available.

Final Thought:
Through a tough game where NU gave up a lead in the final quarter, the 'Cats still have a lot of hope going into this week and the 2 following games.  These are all "win-able" games, and all 3 of these teams are playing at approximately the same level as Northwestern (Iowa is 4-5, Indiana 5-4, Illinois 6-3), so NU definitely controls its own destiny in terms of a potential bowl game.  NU will come home to play its next 2 games and will finally travel to Champaign to finish off the season - definitely a favorable situation for the 'Cats.  So, it's all up to Northwestern how the story of the 2007 season will end.

Go 'Cats!!!

e-mail: j-hodges@alumni.northwestern.edu

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