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.
At some point this week, it’s expected UConn will confirm that its non-football sports will be leaving the American Athletic Conference and rejoining the Big East. It’s also expected that the AAC will not allow UConn to remain as a football-only member, creating a void for what would be an 11-team conference that would seemingly need to be filled.
As for who would replace UConn as a 12th team in the AAC, the rumor mill has run the gamut from current members of Conference USA to current members of the MAC to current members of the Sun Belt. However, a pair of FBS independents are currently the top choices to slide into that 12th slot — if they want it.
Of the two, Army would far and away make the most sense on multiple levels, given the geography — and the inherent travel costs — and the built-in rivalry with Navy. Of course, the addition of that service academy would also bring into question the timing of the annual mid-December Army-Navy game, which would normally be played after the AAC championship game.
Obviously, you couldn’t play a conference game, storied rivalry or not, after your league’s title game, so those logistics — and decades worth of history — would have to be worked out.
Then again, the AAC could move forward with 11 teams and not add any members, at least for now, as it mulls its football future. As one AAC official explained to CFT, going with one less than a dozen in football is much more desirable than adding an inferior fit just to keep the league at an even-number members.
As for UConn football? With the MAC and Conference USA reportedly not in the cards, it appears either FBS independence or dropping back down to the FCS level would be its only legitimate options moving forward.
Derrek Pitts was one of three safeties who opted to transfer from West Virginia within days of each other earlier this month. While Pitts may have left Morgantown, he won’t, as it turns out, be leaving God’s Country.
Monday, a Marshall official confirmed reports that had surfaced last week that Pitts has enrolled in classes at the university and will continue his collegiate playing career for the Thundering Herd.
Because of NCAA transfer rules, Pitts will very likely have to sit out the 2019 season. If that turns out to be the case, the defensive back would then have two seasons of eligibility beginning with the 2020 season.
A three-star member of the Mountaineers’ 2017 recruiting class, Pitts was the No. 2 player at any position in the state of West Virginia coming out of high school in Charleston.
Pitts played in 19 games during his time at WVU, starting a pair of those contests. He recorded his first and only interception at WVU in the Camping World Bowl loss to Syracuse last December, while he returned a blocked field goal 72 yards for a touchdown against Iowa State a couple of months earlier.
And then there were two.
As we noted last week, linebacker Shyheim Cullen, who had been academically suspended at Syracuse earlier in the offseason, announced that he had been “excepted” into the 2019 NFL supplemental draft. A day before that, however, it was reported that former West Virginia wide receiver Marcus Simms had filed his paperwork to enter the same draft in early July as well.
In late April, Simms seemed to indicate on his personal Twitter account that he would be transferring from the Mountaineers, although the “another chapter” to which he referred turned into leaving the collegiate game early for a shot at the NFL.
Simms finished his time in Morgantown with 1,457 yards and eight touchdowns on 87 receptions. The would’ve-been fourth-year senior set career-highs with 46 receptions for 699 yards this past season, totals that were both good for third on the Mountaineers.
Being a head football coach that is connected on Twitter can lead to some unfortunate moments you’d like to have back. In the case of UConn head coach Randy Edsall on Monday evening, a possible quick retweet of a link definitely came at the wrong time.
In a flurry of retweets showing off the recently renovated locker rooms the UConn Huskies will be using, it seems Edsall may have accidentally retweeted a link to a story that essentially suggests UConn is passing on its chance to be a big-time college football program. A tweet briefly retweeted by Edsall linked to a column by Mark Blaudschun of College Sports Maven. In his column, Blaudschun wrote about the recent headlines about UConn leaving the AAC to join the Big East in basketball and leave the football program stranded in uncharted waters.
“But the issue of football remains and there is really no answer that can make UConn a major player in the wide world of big time college football,” Blaudschun writes. “The dye has been cast. Big time football at UConn, RIP.”
Certainly, had Edsall read the story, then he would have refrained from retweeting the story. It didn’t take long for Edsall to remove the retweet from his Twitter timeline either.
Edsall has been busy on Twitter over the last couple of days following the reports the school was setting up to rejoin the Big East for basketball without a concrete plan for what will happen with the football program.
When you are tweeting as often as Edsall has been while trying to keep the spirits up for the Huskies football program and their fans, an accidental retweet is easy to let slip by. Mistakes happen. Edsall corrected this one and moved on doing what he needs to do to keep UConn football moving forward regardless of where “forward” actually leads for the program.