The two teams at the top of the Big Ten West Division face off Saturday as No. 23 Northwestern travels to Purdue in a prime-time game in West Lafayette, Ind.
The winner of the game will be in the driver’s seat for the division title heading into the second half of the conference season.
Northwestern (3-0, 3-0) is currently atop the division after defeating Nebraska last weekend. This is the Wildcats’ first 3-0 start to a season since 2000.
Purdue (2-0, 2-0) is right behind them after having their game against Wisconsin canceled last week due to the Badgers’ COVID-19 outbreak.
“Bye weeks can be an advantage, but sometimes I don’t like to take them,” Purdue coach Jeff Brohm said. “We had a decent rhythm going and we just got to make sure we are back in that rhythm.”
The Boilermakers have played without star wide receiver Rondale Moore for its first two games. The All-American had originally opted-out in August but returned to the program when Big Ten announced an October start date.
Brohm has not given a reason for Moore’s absence.
Moore’s first collegiate game was against the Wildcats in 2018, and the Indiana native immediately made a name for himself. He had 11 catches for 109 yards and a touchdown, while also rushing for 79 yards and a touchdown and returning 125 yards in the kick game.
“They don’t give out the term ‘All-American’ by accident, and I think we were a little bit a part of that,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said Monday.
Moore isn’t Purdue’s only dynamic and explosive weapon on the outside. Sophomore wide receiver David Bell has 22 catches for 243 yards and four touchdowns this year, and Fitzgerald believes he is the best receiver in the country.
But the Northwestern defense will not back down to the challenge. The Wildcats have one of the best defenses in the country through their first three games of the season.
The unit has not allowed a point in the second half the entire season. And for the three touchdowns it has surrendered, two of the possessions started inside the Northwestern 10-yard line and the other started inside Wildcats territory. Northwestern’s scoring defense ranks seventh in the country, and its total defense is 18th.
Against Nebraska, the unit stepped up again. With the Cornhuskers at the 3-yard line looking to tie the game late in the fourth quarter, Chris Bergin intercepted quarterback Luke McCaffery to keep the lead intact. It was one of two interceptions Nebraska quarterbacks threw that day.
“We’re getting excited, getting on each other’s backs, making plays and having a damn good time doing it,” Northwestern linebacker Blake Gallagher said. “We’re playing some good ball right now, but we have to keep correcting things and taking it to a new level every week.”
On offense, the Wildcats are hopeful to have starting running back Isaiah Bowser back after he missed the game against the Cornhuskers.
Historically, Purdue has had the upper hand against Northwestern, winning 51 of 84 matchups. But the Wildcats won five straight against the Boilermakers until Purdue won last year in Evanston, Ill., on a field goal in the waning seconds of the game.
Fitzgerald is 7-4 in his career against the Boilermakers.
–Field Level Media