Boilermakers seek to keep bowl chances alive when they face the Wildcats in Evanston
The Northwestern Wildcats may not be able to make a bowl this season, but they can still play spoiler. And they hope to do that when they welcome the Purdue Boilermakers to Ryan Field this Saturday. Northwestern (1-7, 0-6 Big Ten) has struggled on both sides of the ball all season long. They've also dealt with significant injuries and haven't been able to find any consistency. The Wildcats have lost six in a row and haven't reached the 20-point mark since defeating UNLV back in September.
As for Purdue (3-6, 2-4), they kept their postseason hopes alive with last week's statement win over Nebraska. The Boilermakers are 2-2 in their last four games while outscoring those opponents (Maryland, Iowa, Illinois, and Nebraska) 97-91 along the way. The only reason why Purdue has had any issues this season is because of injuries. A win for Purdue puts them one step closer to bowl eligibility for the third straight year.
Purdue at Northwestern
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 9 at 12 p.m. ET
TV: Big Ten Network
Spread: Northwestern -2
When Northwestern Has the Ball
The Wildcats have struggled to find healthy bodies for their offense. Hunter Johnson — who returned from injury last week — was injured again in last week's loss at Indiana after taking a hit that should have been penalized. His status for this week is uncertain, but even when Johnson is healthy, he hasn't exactly lived up to standards. The Clemson transfer is completing just 47.2 percent of his passes for 432 yards. He's only thrown one touchdown pass to four interceptions, he's averaging just 4.1 yards per completion, and he has taken eight sacks.
Whenever Johnson has been removed from the field of play, Aidan Smith has been called into action. But the junior from Fort Wayne, Indiana hasn't faired much better, as he's also completing just 47.2 percent of his passes for 500 yards and one touchdown. Smith is barely averaging four yards on his throws with six picks and 10 sacks. The Wildcats do indeed miss their old signal-caller Clayton Thorson.
Running back Isaiah Bowser has been ruled out for this week's game. The man who literally ran away with the position in the wake of Jeremy Larkin's career-ending neck injury last season has been hobbled with a knee injury over the last several weeks. Bowser has posted just 204 rushing yards and 24 receiving yards and has yet to find the endzone in 2019. Drake Anderson has kept the Wildcat backfield afloat with 447 yards on 99 attempts (with three scores), good for 4.5 yards per carry.
As NU's quarterbacks have struggled so have their wide receivers. Riley Lees, JJ Jefferson, Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman, and Kyric McGowan have combined for just 583 yards on 64 catches. Jefferson has caught the Wildcats' only two touchdown passes. Bennett Skowronek (12 catches, 141 yards) has been out for roughly a month due to an unspecified injury, and his return is starting to look less likely. The Wildcat offensive line has allowed 19 sacks, and they'll be taking on a Boilermaker defense that has posted 17 sacks and nine takeaways.
When Purdue Has the Ball
The train has kept rolling despite all of the Boilermakers' offensive injuries. Elijah Sindelar started the year under center but sustained a broken collarbone on Sept. 28 against Minnesota and will miss the rest of the season. Since the injury, freshman Jack Plummer had been guiding this offense up until last week. He threw for 1,603 yards and 11 touchdowns on 6.7 yards per attempt before he broke his ankle against the Cornhuskers last week. Plummer will also miss the remainder of the 2019 campaign.
Head coach Jeff Brohm will now turn to Aidan O'Connell, who's seen limited action this year. He's completed 15 of 22 passes (68.2 percent) for 133 yards and a touchdown (6.0 yards per attempt). Wide receiver Rondale Moore (29 receptions, 387 yards, 2 TDs) injured his hamstring in the same game that Sindelar hurt his collarbone and has yet to return. Fellow receiver David Bell (51, 676, 4) and tight end Brycen Hopkins (42, 538, 3) have carried Purdue's passing game in Moore's absence. They've also gotten support from running backs King Doerue and Zander Horvath, who've accounted for 727 total yards and seven combined touchdowns.
The Boilermakers have proven one thing that the Wildcats haven't: The ability to play through injuries. Northwestern's lack of depth at certain positions has reared it's head this season, and I expect Purdue to capitalize on that. Jeff Brohm will look to exploit Pat Fitzgerald's defense, which has surrendered 106 points in their last three games alone. And they may not need much scoring since Northwestern has scored just six total points in that same stretch.
Prediction: Purdue 21, Northwestern 10
— Gabe Salgado is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He's a co-host of The Rewind Sports: 60. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.