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.
Clayton Thorson got the start for Northwestern and helped Northwestern take a 14-0 lead in the first quarter at Purdue. But a planned quarterback switch to TJ Green may have gotten in the way of some early momentum for the Wildcats as Purdue rallied to tie the game at 14-14 in a wild first quarter. Northwestern regained some control in the second quarter and leads Purdue, 31-17, at halftime of the Big Ten opener. The Wildcats have scored three touchdowns off three Purdue turnovers.
It was Northwestern’s defense making a play on the opening drive of the game when JR Pace picked off a pass from Boilermakers quarterback Elijah Sindelar. Eleven plays later, Northwestern took a 7-0 lead to capitalize off the turnover. Jeremy Larkin took the ball across the goal line on the ground. After a quick three-and-out by the Purdue offense, the Wildcats added another touchdown with John Moten IV running in from two yards out. The touchdown drive was highlighted by a 46-yard run by Larkin.
Purdue scored touchdowns on their next two offensive possessions and needed just seven plays between the two drives to cover 145 yards to the end zone. The game-tying score, at the time, was scored by Rondale Moore on a 76-yard play on a 3rd and 1.
Buckle up for the second half. This one could be a wild one.
Fans who don’t follow Purdue closely might not know the name Anthony Mahoungou but after the wideout’s performance in the Foster Farms Bowl, safe to say he’ll be talked about for quite a while by fans of the Boilermakers. That’s because the senior from Paris — yes, as in France — wrestled in the game-winning touchdown with just under two minutes left to cap off a wild second half for both sides and give Purdue (7-6) a 38-35 victory over Arizona (7-6).
Mahoungou, who finished the night with six catches for 118 yards and a pair of scores, prevented what would have been a heck of a collapse for an offense that put up 31 points in the first half but was held scoreless after leaving the locker room right up until he crossed the goal line. Fellow senior Gregory Phillips added his own bit of aerobatics into the end zone with one of his two touchdown catches and formed a pretty good opposite number to his teammate with a game-high 149 yards.
While there were stretches in the third and fourth quarter where the offense wasn’t quite clicking on the rare trip to the West Coast for the Boilermakers, quarterback Elijah Sindelar threw for 396 yards with four touchdowns and just one interception on 53 attempts — none bigger than that final one down the field.
Those heroics spoiled an improbable rally on the part of Arizona, which was close to pitching a second half shutout and had scored 21 unanswered to take the lead in the fourth quarter. Wildcats quarterback Khalil Tate had only 58 yards rushing but was terrific through the air to spark the team when they needed it. The electric dual-threat finished his first postseason outing with 302 yards passing and five touchdowns of at least 24 yards — but did toss an interception on the team’s final drive to seal the loss.
In what was a key reason the team lost though, Rich Rodriguez‘ squad never could get things going consistently in the run game and had only 128 yards rushing. That will be quite the disappointment to the fans back in Tucson as the team looked like they had turned the corner in October but limped to the finish of the 2017 season with four losses in their past five games.
Trending in the other direction would be the winners in the Bay Area as Purdue completed a remarkable rebuild in record time under first year coach Jeff Brohm. The Boilermakers not only won a bowl game for the first time in six years but closed the year strongly with their fourth win in their last five outings. Both teams have plenty to look forward to in 2018 but there was certainly a lot more for the Big Ten side to remember after pretty fun finish from the Bay Area.
Any game matching up Rich Rodriguez and Jeff Brohm figured to turn into a bit of a shootout and that’s exactly what transpired at the Foster Farms Bowl on Wednesday night as Purdue took a 31-14 lead over Arizona into halftime at Levi’s Stadium. The two sides combined for nearly 500 yards of total offense after just two quarters and both averaged over six yards per play in a game where moving the ball came a lot easier than stopping it.
Elijah Sindelar may not have the ability to threaten with his legs like his counterpart on the other team but he turned in a masterful performance with his arm and threw for 244 yards and three touchdowns through the air. Tailback Markell Jones recorded 60 yards rushing but it was the speedy D.J. Knox who managed the only score on the ground for the offense and pulled off an incredible trick play.
Still, the story of the game so far was the top Purdue wideouts seemingly finding open space on every play. Anthony Mahoungou kicked the scoring off when he raced up the sideline 31 yards to the end zone after making a defender miss, finishing the half with a trio of catches for a grand total of 70 yards. That would be impressive if not for his teammate Gregory Phillips, who already topped the century mark with 107 yards receiving and a pair of touchdowns. The first of the two scores out of the senior was a 42 bomb that he hauled in before twisting and diving into the end zone for six, following that up with a 22 yarder that was much easier in terms of difficulty.
Arizona’s offense wasn’t quite as prolific as we’ve seen this season but they still had plenty of moments in the half. Star QB Khalil Tate threw for 145 yards and a pair of touchdowns — one a beautiful over the shoulder pass to Tony Ellison — but was bottled up pretty well when it came to rushing the ball. The noted dual-threat had only 37 yards on the ground and never came close to breaking off the big run that he’s been known to rip off if given a sliver of daylight.
Nick Wilson added 16 yards rushing for a rushing attack that should receive plenty of halftime adjustments.
The Foster Farms Bowl has had its share of rather sleepy affairs in front of sparse crowds at Levi’s Stadium in the Bay Area and while that latter point still holds for this game, there’s nothing sleepy about this edition between Arizona and Purdue. That should make for a fun second half — even if the Wildcats do need to put in a little extra work to get back into things against a hungry group of Boilermakers.
Purdue has its next coach, according to Fox Sports’ Bruce Feldman and FootballScoop, and will hire Western Kentucky’s Jeff Brohm.
Brohm engineered an exciting, explosive spread offense with the Hilltoppers, leading Western Kentucky to back-to-back Conference USA titles in 2015 and 2016 and the program’s only two double digit-win seasons. Western Kentucky went 12-2 in 2015 and finished No. 24 in the AP poll, the program’s only top-25 ranking in its 10-year FBS history.
Under Brohm, Western Kentucky’s offense ranked 9th in S&P+ in 2014, 4th in 2015 and 9th in 2016. The high-flying Hilltoppers averaged 44.4, 44.3 and 41.9 points per game in Brohm’s three years.
Making Brohm’s accomplishments in Bowling Green, Ky. more impressive is that he maintained a high level of offensive success from 2015 to 2016 after losing star quarterback Brad Doughty, who threw for over 5,000 yards and 48 touchdowns in the Hilltoppers’ 12-2 2015 campaign. Mike White stepped in this year and threw for 4,027 yards with 34 touchdowns, signaling that Brohm’s system wasn’t successful just because of one good quarterback.
Obviously, Big Ten defenses will be a step up from those Brohm’s teams faced in C-USA. But Purdue does have the advantage of being in the fairly wide-open Big Ten West, in which a team can have a far easier time breaking through than in the brawling Big Ten East. While Wisconsin is a rock-solid program, in any given year getting past Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, Northwestern and Illinois is feasible.
This won’t be an immediate turnaround in West Lafayette for Brohm, of course. But this is a program with plenty of offensive success in the last two decades (see: Brees, Drew) that looks like a very, very interesting fit for Brohm.