When the season started, you would find it a pretty difficult challenge to find anyone who honestly felt we would hit mid-November with a matchup between the undefeated Northwestern Wildcats and Purdue Boilermakers with first place in the Big Ten West Division up for grabs. But here we are! Embrace the wide-open race in the Big Ten West as the Wildcats look to get out of Purdue with a win this weekend.
Northwestern hasn't exactly played the strongest schedule, but the Wildcats have still held opponents to 12.0 ppg, capped off by a 21-13 win against Nebraska last week. The Boilermakers, meanwhile, are coming off an abrupt bye week after having last weekend's game against Wisconsin postponed due to a COVID-19 outbreak within the Wisconsin program.
Northwestern at Purdue
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 14 at 7:30 p.m. ET
TV: Big Ten Network
Spread: Northwestern -3
When Northwestern Has the Ball
The addition of Indiana transfer Peyton Ramsey has helped solidify Northwestern's offense and fix a big problem it had in 2019. But Ramsey hasn't been loading up the box score with gaudy numbers. Ramsey actually ranks in the bottom half of Big Ten quarterbacks in yards per game (170.3), and he has as many touchdowns as interceptions this season (three each). But Northwestern's ability to protect better with their offensive line has been a noticeable upgrade. The Wildcats have allowed just four sacks in three games this season.
Purdue has struggled to create havoc in the backfield, so Ramsey and the running duo of Drake Anderson and Isaiah Bowser should be in a good position to control the tempo of the game. The Boilermakers rank 83rd nationally in rush defense (186.0 ypg), which is actually a slight step up from their production in 2019 (192.5).
When Purdue Has the Ball
We have yet to see Rondale Moore take the field this season after the star wide receiver decided to opt back in for the 2020 season, and it is unconfirmed if he will play this week against the Wildcats or not. Regardless, Purdue has a big-time wide receiver in David Bell. Bell leads the Big Ten with 121.5 receiving yards per game and four touchdowns in two games (tied for second-most touchdown receptions in the Big Ten). However, the Boilermakers did take a hit on the offensive line with the loss of starting left guard Cam Craig.
However, Purdue has its biggest test yet in Northwestern, which ranks second in the Big Ten in pass defense (192.3 ypg). And even then, first-place Wisconsin has only played one game this season against a hapless Illinois squad. Avoiding turnovers will be crucial, as the Wildcats pace the conference with nine turnovers forced.
Northwestern will arrive in West Lafayette, Indiana this weekend as a slight favorite against Purdue. The Boilermakers having their season interrupted could lead to Purdue being slightly out of sync, and they cannot afford for that to be the case for long against Pat Fitzgerald's Wildcats. Northwestern is too feisty and prickly to allow for Purdue to get away with that without it costing them. Northwestern's defense will have some challenges defending the pass, but managing the speed of the game is where Northwestern will turn this one in their favor.
Prediction: Northwestern 24, Purdue 20
Podcast: Week 11 Preview and Predictions