Northwestern turned the ball over three times on Saturday, but its defense bailed it out.
Purdue couldn’t turn those turnovers into any points, and the Cats got a late touchdown drive from the offense to beat the Boilermakers, 21-14, at Ryan Field.
Clayton Thorson earned a mid-game benching when he threw an interception in the third quarter. But he reentered the game in the fourth and led what proved to be the game-winning scoring drive, which ended in a tie-breaking Justin Jackson touchdown run.
Jackson finished with 116 rushing yards on the afternoon, while the Northwestern defense starred, limiting Purdue to just 360 total yards of offense and just 73 on the ground.
Both teams got touchdowns on their first drive of the game, an abnormality for squads that usually can’t score with much ease.
Warren Long capped a seven-play, 75-yard drive with a 32-yard touchdown tote to open the scoring. But on the first play of the next drive, Purdue quarterback David Blough pitched a 68-yard touchdown pass to even the score. It was Blough’s third touchdown throw of at least 60 yards this season, and he’s the only quarterback in the conference with more than one of those.
The offenses returned to their typical ineffectiveness following the early spurts, and as the first half wore on, turnovers came fast and furious. Blough was intercepted by Traveon Henry, giving the Cats a short field. Northwestern went 41 yards in six plays — highlighted by Miles Sheller’s 26-yard run — and Long punched it in for his second touchdown of the day.
Jackson fumbled on the next Northwestern drive, but Purdue couldn’t capitalize on a turnover the same way the Cats had, turning the ball over on downs outside of the red zone and allowing Northwestern to take a touchdown lead into halftime.
Markell Jones’ touchdown run made sure that lead didn’t last long into the second half, tying the game at 14 in the opening minutes of the third quarter.
The Boilermakers missed a field goal attempt that would've broken the tie, but Thorson gave them another scoring chance with an interception in Northwestern territory. But again Purdue couldn’t do a thing off the turnover, going three and out on the ensuing drive.
After that interception, Northwestern replaced Thorson with Zack Oliver at quarterback, and the senior’s first two passes went for 13- and 37-yard gains inside the Purdue 30-yard line. But Oliver threw an interception of his own on a critical third down, the Cats’ third turnover of the game. But as happened twice before, Purdue couldn’t capitalize and went three and out following the Oliver pick.
Thorson reentered the game in the fourth quarter. He led a long touchdown drive, picking up back-to-back gains of 16 yards apiece on quarterback keepers before Jackson pounded it in for the score that gave the Cats a 21-14 lead.
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Thorson and Oliver combined to complete just 11 of their 24 passing attempts for a paltry 132 yards, with no touchdown passes and two interceptions. But the run game fared significantly better, with Jackson and Long combining for 168 yards and three touchdown runs on 30 carries.
The win sent No. 18 Northwestern to 8-2 on the season, and wins in the final two regular-season games against Wisconsin and Illinois would deliver the program's first 10-win season since 2012, the second since the Rose Bowl season of 1995 and the fourth in program history.
If the Cats win both their remaining regular-season games and the bowl game they clinched two wins ago, it would mark the first 11-win season in Northwestern history.
The loss, meanwhile, dropped the Boilermakers to 2-8. Games at Iowa and Indiana round our Purdue's season.