Written by Garin Turner
Big 10 football gets underway this Thursday August 30 when the Northwestern Wildcats visit the Purdue Boilermakers at Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette, Indiana. The game will be shown on ESPN with a start time of 8 PM EST. This is the first time since 1996 that the Boilermakers have opened the season with a Big 10 conference game.
Purdue finished last year 7-6 including a victory in the Foster Farms Bowl game against Arizona 38-35. The Boilermakers hold a 76-48-6 record in season-opening games and leads the series against the Wildcats 50-31-1. However, Northwestern has won the last four meetings. “I think our guys understand that this is not only an important game because it’s a conference game, but this is a great opponent. They beat us pretty handily last year,” Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm said.
Jeff Brohm enters his second year at the helm and is looking to build upon his success from last year. There was a plus 55.3 difference in rushing yards, plus 647 yards in total offense, minus 14 in interceptions, and a plus 13 in red zone scoring. The defense also stepped up in year one under Brohm. Points allowed per game dropped by 17.7 as well as points allowed in the entire season with a difference of minus 192.
Purdue return 13 starters from the offense last year including David Blough (102-157, 1,103 yards and 9 touchdowns) and Elijah Sindelar (187-329, 2,099 yards and 18 touchdowns) who split reps and starts all year long at quarterback. “Well, both guys have had good camps and done a very good job. I think they are both going to be ready to play,” Brohm said about both quarterbacks.
In the backfield, the Boilermakers return four running backs this season. Markell Jones (113 carries for 566 and a touchdown), D.J. Knox (90 carries for 561 yards and two touchdowns), Tario Fuller (43 carries for 261 yards and two touchdowns), and Richie Worship (53 carries for 253 yards and three touchdowns) all look to provide Purdue with a solid run game to take pressure off of whoever is under center at quarterback.
Wide Receiver could be a question mark this year. Purdue lost Anthony Mahoungou and Gregory Phillips to graduation, but Jackson Anthrop returns and led the Boilermakers in receptions last year with 44. He also added five touchdowns.
The defense will need people to step up this year after losing seven starters due to graduation. The only returning starter on the defensive line is Lorenzo Neal who had 22 tackles including 5.5 for a loss.
Northwestern is coming off of an 10-3 season which includes a Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl victory against Kentucky 24-23. The Wildcats are carrying over an eight-win streak. The Wildcats are looking for its first win in a Big 10 opener since 2015. “Huge challenge for us on the road. Anytime you play a Big 10 game on the road it’s going to be a challenge,” Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald said.
The Wildcats return 61 of 76 letter winners from last year. This includes seven starters on offense and seven on defense. There’s a question of who will be behind center for Northwestern as senior quarterback Clayton Thorson suffered an injury in the last game. If Thorson can’t go the Wildcats will have to turn to one of three quarterbacks. “Any time you go through a major injury there’s a shock of the unknown, then we have a plan, you hope the surgery goes well, and then you start the rehab process,” Fitzgerald said. TJ Green is a junior walk on and is the son of retired NFL QB Trent Green. He has thrown one pass for the Wildcats. Redshirt freshman Andrew Marty was rated the third best quarterback in the state of Ohio. He broke his school’s touchdown record throwing for 43 touchdowns. Redshirt sophomore Aidan Smith played against Minnesota last year but didn’t attempt a pass.
The Wildcats will also have to replace its all-time leading rusher Justin Jackson after finishing up his career this past season. Jeremy Larkin looks most capable of stepping into the role of featured back. Last year, Larkin had 503 yards rushing including 112 in the Music City Bowl. “I think his goals and aspirations are very high, he’s taking over the reins from the all-time leader in rushing in program history,” Fitzgerald.
The receiving core returns Bennett Skwronek and Flynn Nagel. Nagel had 48 receptions and 489 yards. He’s caught a pass in 18 consecutive games. The defense sees five of its seven returning starters on the defensive line