The Wildcats of Northwestern will try to stay unbeaten on the season as they play host to the Purdue Boilermakers on Saturday night in a Big Ten Conference showdown at Ryan Field.
Purdue comes into the matchup fresh after having an open date last weekend. The Boilermakers were upended on their home field by the Toledo Rockets, 31-20, back on September 25th.
The Wildcats managed to stay perfect after traveling to conference foe Minnesota last weekend, and coming out on the positive side of a 29-28 thriller. Northwestern has been the victor in its last eight regular-season games, the longest regular-season win streak for the team since 1995.
The Boilermakers currently hold a significant edge in the all-time series between the two teams, leading 49-27-1. However, Northwestern has won four of the last six meetings, including last year's 27-21 decision at Purdue.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Rob Henry threw for 140 yards on 17-of-31 passing with one touchdown and one interception in Purdue's disappointing 31-20 defeat last week to Toledo. He also led the team in rushing, gaining 67 yards on 13 carries in the loss. Henry is taking the place of starting quarterback Robert Marve who is out due to a knee injury. The injury bug doesn't stop there, however, as the team is without All-Big Ten wide receiver Keith Smith for the remainder of the campaign. Tight end Kyle Adams has become a fruitful target, grabbing six passes for 33 yards in the loss against Toledo. Cortez Smith has 16 catches on the season for 208 yards while leading the team with two touchdown receptions.
The Boilermakers are led by impressive senior defensive end Ryan Kerrigan on the other side of the ball. Kerrigan racked up 19 total tackles, 3.5 for loss, one forced fumble and 1.5 sacks for Purdue against Toledo. Kerrigan helps a fierce Boilermaker defense which leads the Big Ten in sacks so far this season with 12, marking four more than they had in all of 2009. Purdue's average of three sacks per game are tops in the conference and rank 11th in the nation. The defense has yet to allow a 100-yard rusher in four contests this year. Overall, they have allowed an average of 148 rushing yards per game while letting foes find the end zone six times via the rush.
Junior quarterback Dan Persa leads an impressive Northwestern offensive attack. Persa has completed an unprecedented 79.4 percent of his passes this season (108-of-136), which leads the nation. He has also thrown for an incredible 1,358 yards with 10 touchdowns against only two interceptions. Persa's favorite target is junior wide receiver Jemery Ebert, who racked up seven receptions for 105 yards and a score in NU's 29-28 victory at Minnesota last weekend. Ebert leads the Wildcats with 24 catches for 436 yards and five touchdowns on the season. In addition to Persa's proficiency with his arm, he also leads the team in rushing with 271 yards and two scores on 68 attempts.
While Northwestern's offense is averaging 29.8 points per game this season, the defense has only allowed its opponents 18 points per contest. The strong point comes from the Wildcats' ability to defend the run, as opponents muster just over 122 yards per game on the ground, getting four yards per rush and finding paydirt six times. Against the Golden Gophers, however, the rushing defense bent, allowing 180 yards and a score. Minnesota was able to gain just 202 yards through the air, but managed to throw for three touchdowns against the Wildcats. Northwestern picked off a pass for the ninth straight game last week.
With the injuries deeply affecting the Purdue offense in particular, look for the Wildcats to continue their undefeated campaign and take care of the Boilermakers for a third straight year.