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Posted By Ben Chiswick On Oct 7 2010 @ 12:10 pm In Northwestern | No Comments

Last Saturday’s win at Minnesota may have been a squeaker, but the Northwestern Wildcats (5-0, 1-0) now find themselves one victory away from that potential 6-0 start we have been talking about for weeks.

Not only that, but the ‘Cats have clawed their way into the USA Today/Coaches Poll at No. 25. A win this weekend could also land them in the AP Top 25 Poll, where they received 25 votes last week and currently sit 30th.

The Big Ten home opener will be a night game this weekend as the Purdue Boilermakers (2-2, 0-0) come to town.

Purdue is coming off a bye week, so this is their first conference game of the season. They are expected to be without two of their top offensive players, however, in quarterback Robert Marve and receiver Keith Smith.

Marve, a junior, started 11 games at the University of Miami in 2008 before transferring to Purdue. Smith, arguably the Boilermakers’ most dangerous offensive weapon, had his redshirt senior season end abruptly after just two games. During his college career, Purdue’s co-captain hauled in 158 passes for 1,709 yards.

The most dangerous player that Northwestern will have to prepare for is probably on the other side of the ball. Senior defensive end Ryan Kerrigan not only has a team-high 34 tackles, but has also accumulated 4.5 sacks and 12 tackles-for-loss. Despite playing just four games due to the early bye week, that ranks Kerrigan atop the Big Ten in tackles-for-loss and just a half-sack behind the conference leader in sacks – Northwestern’s Vince Browne.

As a team, Purdue leads the Big Ten with 12 sacks and is tied with Penn State for the conference lead with 31 tackles-for-loss. That averages out to 3.0 sacks- and 7.75 TFL-per-game, garnering national ranks of 11th and 14th, respectively.

The Boilermakers can also run the ball, thanks in part to fill-in quarterback Rob Henry, a redshirt freshman, and senior running back Dan Dierking. Purdue averages 188 rushing yards-per-game despite the fact that no individual player averages more than 52 yards-per-game on their own. The balanced rushing attack has led to over 200 yards in consecutive games and over 100 yards in seven straight games dating back to 2009.

In this game, however, Henry will be the wild card.

He has led the Boilers in rushing in each of the past two games, but did not run for more than 70 yards in either effort. The fact of the matter is that on Saturday, he is going to have to throw the ball to beat the Wildcats. Henry comes in 21-for-41 for 233 yards, two touchdowns and one pick in sporadic action over the last three games, but will be making his first career start this weekend.

You have to think Northwestern – who ranks 36th nationally with just 122 rushing yards allowed per game – is going to focus on ending Purdue’s streak of big running games. If they can do that successfully, it will take a freshman quarterback winning his first start through the air to beat them.

If the Wildcats can stop the run and protect Dan Persa from Purdue’s productive pass rush, they will head into the bye week with a 6-0 mark in advance of their homecoming showdown with Michigan State on October 23.

Under the lights at Ryan Field this Saturday, Northwestern will look to continue their impressive start to this season. With one more win, the conference will have to take serious notice of the Wildcats’ as a legitimate threat in the race to Pasadena.

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