After a back-and-forth first half, things settled down in the second half of the first official Big Ten contest of the 2018 season. Northwestern (1-0, 1-0 Big Ten) held on for a hard-fought road victory against Purdue (0-1, 0-1 Big Ten) on Thursday night, 31-27. Northwestern running back Jeremy Larkin rushed for 134 yards and two touchdowns in the win.
With Northwestern backed up in a third and long, Purdue appeared to make a key stop to force Northwestern to try a field goal in the final minutes. Instead, an unnecessary roughness penalty on Lorenzo Neal. Throwing Larkin, the ball carrier to the ground, led to a 15-yard penalty and allowed Northwestern an opportunity to run out the clock instead of getting the ball back to the Purdue offense for a chance to win the game.
Northwestern’s defense made the biggest plays to help lead the Wildcats to a road win, and the offense capitalized on those miscues in the first half. Three Purdue interceptions by quarterback Elijah Sindelar led to three Northwestern touchdowns as the Wildcats built a comfortable lead going to halftime. But the Boilermakers came out plugging away in the second half and slowly chipped away on offense while the defense made adjustments. Until a key fourth-quarter possession, Northwestern’s offense was unable to solve Purdue in the second half, allowing the home team to cut into the lead.
A quarterback rotation of Clayton Thorson and TJ Green had some ups and downs for Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald. Thorson started the game and played well before a planned switch to Green. The rotation continued through the night, with Green leading the fourth quarter drive that helped to seal the win for the Wildcats. Thorson completed 16 of 27 passes for 172 yards. Green completed 7 of 10 pass attempts for 63 yards but showed a little bit more mobility than Thorson at times to help spice things up.
Purdue’s defense got off to a rough start but hung around to get into a comfort zone. It just couldn’t come up with the stop it needed late in the fourth quarter. Northwestern was 6-for-16 on third downs.
Purdue had a bit of a breakout star in the making in running back Rondale Moore. The freshman led Purdue with 79 rushing yards and 109 receiving yards with one touchdown on the ground and one catch to go along with 125 kick return yards. If one game was a preview of what to expect this season, then Jeff Brohm has himself a versatile weapon on offense.
Both teams will get into their non-conference schedule next week. Northwestern will host Duke. Purdue hosts Eastern Michigan.