Post-Game Analysis: Purdue
by Jonathan Hodges


Northwestern (6-1, 2-1) racked up a big homecoming win over Purdue (2-5, 0-3) by a final score of 48-26 as NU propelled itself to bowl eligibility and a position to making a run during the final stretch of the season.  One note about bowl eligibility is that it does not necessarily guarantee a bowl berth, as the 'Cats learned the hard way last year, staying home at 6-6, but with a trip to struggling Indiana next week and 4 more games on the schedule following that, NU has a very good chance of making it to the postseason and possibly even determining how the top of the conference standings look at the end of the year.  Overall, it was a solid and satisfying win over the Boilermakers as NU scooped up 5 turnovers on the day (3 interceptions and 2 fumbles) and turned 4 of those into points (3 TDs and a FG) while using the last as an opportunity to run the clock late in the game.

The game got a bit wild and sloppy at the end: after NU scored for the last time of the day (a Conteh 14 yard run), Purdue subsequently scored a TD (Sheets 76 yard run) on the next play from scrimmage, then recovered an onside kick (where NU should have called for the fair catch), and follwed that with a Painter INT (caught by McManis).  NU had its share of sloppy plays, with a Bacher INT deep in Purdue territory early in the game (which Purdue subsequently turned into a FG), a Sutton fumble, again in Purdue territory, and the aforementioned onside kick that was touched by NU and recovered by Purdue.  Also, while NU allowed a few long Purdue plays (a 76 yard Sheets run and a 32 yard TD pass to Orton), the 'Cats more than made up for them with grabbing those turnovers and turning them into points.  While the Boilermakers racked up more yards on the day, most of it was the result of playing catchup after NU established a 12 point lead by halftime thanks to a 24 point second quarter.

Unfortunately, NU experienced the first significant injury of the season when MLB Arrington went down with a knee injury in the first quarter (his status will be announced on Monday, but early indications are not good), although Nate Williams and Mike Dinard did a nice job in relief.  The Wildcats also employed a lot of nickel sets (with Peters, Phillips, and Smith on the field) to counter the Purdue spread attack.  The defense did respond in a big way to its zero turnovers against Michigan State to force and/or recover 5 on the day and also to keep Purdue from mounting a big lead early on by holding the Boilers to FGs on 2 long drives in the first quarter.

Meanwhile, the offense finally awoke from its slumber as it put 6 TDs and 2 FGs on the board (along with another missed FG); CJ Bacher led the way with 3 passing TDs and a rushing TD (he had 230 yards on the day), Sutton added 158 all-purpose yards (96 rushing, 62 receiving), and Peterman had a TD receiving (along with 55 receiving yards) and one passing (a 30 yard pass to Stewart, his second completion in two attempts this season).  The 'Cats had 451 total yards of offense, and were 6 of 13 on 3rd down conversions and 6 of 7 in red zone attempts (the one failed attempt was a missed FG), and dominated time of possession in the second half.  Although NU didn't take advantage of Purdue's usually porous run defense, Sutton and Conteh did combine for 26 carries and 145 yards (5.6 yards/carry).  And Bacher continued his streak of wins when throwing less than 2 interceptions in a game, bringing his record to 11-0 when posting such an interceptions statistic.

The win puts NU in prime bowl contention within the conference, with a trip to reeling Indiana next week and an upcoming trip to schizophrenic Michigan, NU should be able to secure that seventh win to essentially lock a bowl berth.  It was great to see NU respond after a flat performance against MSU to snatch a homecoming win and put itself in a solid position within the conference; now it must sustain that momentum going on a road trip that will likely help decide the bowl fate of the Wildcats.

Player of the Game: NU WR Eric Peterman (4 receptions for 55 yards and 1 TD, 1 of 1 passing for 30 yards and 1 TD) Peterman provided the spark NU's offense needed early on, accounting for NU's first two touchdowns that put the 'Cats up for good.  He had an impressive catch and run for his 45 yard TD catch, breaking multiple takles and outrunning defenders into the end zone, while executing a reverse for a TD pass to the wide open Stewart where he utilized his previous experience as a quarterback (although the throw was floated a bit, but who can complain).

Northwestern Honorable Mentions:
- RB Tyrell Sutton (18 carries for 96 yards, 5.3 yards/carry; 4 receptions for 62 yards, 1 TD) Although Sutton didn't get the expected number of carries and/or touches, he made the most of what he had, racking up 158 total yards from scrimmage on the day and helping to propel NU to victory, especially on some key 3rd down screen passes and his TD grab.
- QB CJ Bacher (20 of 33 passing for 230 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT; 15 carries for 41 yards, 1 TD) Bacher not only helped the 'Cats with his arm, but also with his feet, as he sustained drives with both passes and runs, and completed some impressive passes - specifically a key 40 yard pass to Ebert just before halftime to set up the TD that put NU up by 12 at intermission.  He responded in a big way to a subpar performance against MSU and showed poise while running the ball on multiple occasions.  While he had one INT that was a forced pass to the middle of the field into double coverage, he limited his mistakes following that which definitievely helped NU win the game.
- P/K Stefan Demos (3 punts averaging 50 yards/punt, 2 inside the 20 and 1 touchback; 9 kickoffs averaging 62.4 yards/kick) Demos responded to a relatively poor kicking performance against the Spartans by executing a solid gameplan against Purdue, who averaged only 16.8 yards/kickoff return and had no punt returns on the day.  Keeping the Boilers' starting field position deep in their own end helped the NU defense make the stops and force the turnovers it needed to get to win.
- S Brad Phillips (7 tackles, 1 INT) Phillips had an excellent interception grab on a desperation throw as the QB was being hit to give the 'Cats excellent field position (at the Purdue 12 yard line), and added some key tackles (he had 5 solo on the day) to once again lead the NU D to victory.
- Defensive Ends (Wootton: 1 tackle, 2 QB hurries; Mims: 3 tackles, 2 PBUs, 1 QB hurry; Browne: 4 tackles, 2 TFLs, 1 sack) The NU DEs helped the 'Cats' cause by putting a significant amount of pressure on Purdue's QBs (Painter and Elliot), knocking down some passes, and executing some sacks.  NU needed this pressure to keep the Boilers' passing attack at bay, and that's what they got.

What to Work On:
- Stopping Big Plays: Although they didn't help determine the outcome of the game, there were a few big plays by Purdue (a 76 yard rush by Sheets, a 32 yard reception by Orton, and an onside kick recovery) that NU must work to prevent in the future.  In closer games (when Northwestern doesn't get 5 turnovers), these types of plays would be killer to NU's chances of victory.
- Penalties: The 'Cats had 8 penalties on the day for 47 yards, but 3 of those for 15 yards came on NU's first drive of the second half as NU attempted to run the hurry-up offense.  Fortunately, Purdue trumped the 'Cats in the penalty category, garnering 9 for 69 yards, but NU must play more disciplined football moving forward.

Random Observations:
- Attendance: Although it was homecoming and the 'Cats came into the game with a 5-1 record and were looking to attain bowl eligibility, NU only brought in 27,163 fans.  It was most likely a result of the early 11AM start (although the student section filled up nicely later in the first quarter with many wearing purple) and the NU disappointment against MSU.  The final two home games of the year against OSU and Illinois should bring in many more fans and, possibly, sellouts - hopefully the majority wearing purple.
- Big Ten Blowouts: In the 5 Big Ten games on Saturday (Minnesota had a bye), the winning team averaging 46.4 points/game and the losing team averaging 15.8 points/game.  These game set the tone for the rest of the season, with the winners (OSU, PSU, Iowa, Northwestern, and Illinois) putting themselves in a prime bowl position, and the losers (MSU, Michigan, Wisconsin, Purdue, and Indiana, respectively) sent reeling and struggling to stay alive for a bowl berth (albeit Michigan State is in a better position than most with a 6-2 record).
- Defense spreading the wealth: NU's defense didn't have anyone break double digits in tackles, but featured 23 defenders with at least one tackle.  Once again, it's the team acting as a whole that came out on top instead of one superior athlete.
- Bowl Chances: The win boosted the 'Cats bowl chances, with likely destinations ranging from the Insight Bowl in Phoenix to, possibly, even New Years' Day bowls in Florida.  But to secure a spot NU needs to win at least one more game; with two wins likely sending NU to a warm December or January destination.

Final Thought:

While there were some issues to address, Northwestern's big 22 point victory over Purdue allowed the 'Cats to reach bowl eligiblity for the second consecutive season and stage a possible run during the second half of the season.  NU responded to a flat performance against MSU by forcing 5 turnovers and turning the first 4 of those into points, while limiting its own mistakes.  The offense came alive as well, racking up 6 TDs and 2 FGs which included a 4 TD day from Bacher (3 passing, 1 rushing), which propelled NU to its all time highest point total against the Boilermakers.  Now it's on to Bloomington where NU will face an Indiana squad that will be fighting for any shot at a bowl as well as an upset bid.

Go 'Cats!!!

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

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