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LOSS TO PURDUE LEAVES SOUR TASTE HEADING INTO BYE WEEK

Posted By Ben Chiswick On Oct 12 2010 @ 12:48 pm In Northwestern | No Comments

Well, it was bound to happen. The undefeated run couldn’t last forever, right?

On Saturday night, the Northwestern Wildcats (5-1, 1-1) lost their first game of the season after letting a fourth-quarter lead slip away and missing a pair of late field goals in a 20-17 loss to the Purdue Boilermakers (3-2, 1-0). The defeat also ended an eight-game regular season winning streak dating back to last season.

As expected, Purdue’s offense was focused on the ground game with fleet-footed freshman Rob Henry making his first career start. While the Boilermakers’ aerial attack managed just 47 yards, they ran for a whopping 232 yards on the ground – led by Henry’s 132 and a touchdown.

Still, a strong argument could be made that Northwestern outplayed Purdue. The Wildcats out-gained their opponent by more than 100 yards and racked up 305 yards through the air. Northwestern had 23 first downs to just 13 for Purdue and controlled the time of possession, 34:04 to 25:56.

In the end, however, the difference with two missed field goals by Stefan Demos.

With a 17-13 lead and 8:13 left in the fourth quarter, Demos had a 41-yard field goal blocked. Instead of a seven-point lead, Henry countered by engineering a run-heavy 14-play, 68-yard drive to deliver Purdue the go-ahead touchdown and a 20-17 advantage.

Dan Persa responded by leading an efficient and productive drive for the ‘Cats, but the key play turned out to be a third-down holding penalty in the red zone. It erased what would have been a 22-yard run that brought the ball inside the five-yard line, instead setting up a 3rd & 15. Two plays later, Demos missed wide right on a 45-yard attempt that would have tied the game with just 58 seconds remaining.

And, now, the bye week is upon us.

On one hand, you have to be happy. A 5-1 start is nothing to scoff at and the Wildcats are in position to be a player in the Big Ten race if they can pull off some upsets down the stretch.

On the other hand, you have to be concerned with Northwestern’s inability to pull away from Minnesota or Purdue in their first two conference games. If not for so many self-inflicted wounds, the ‘Cats could be 6-0 right now. The importance of this is magnified because this week’s bye happens to provide a natural break between a relatively easy first half and a significantly tougher schedule after the bye week.

After a homecoming date with Michigan State (#13 in the AP Poll, #11 in the USA Today Poll) on October 23, they will play road games against a pair of unranked but dangerous opponents in Indiana and Penn State. Then it is back home for a meeting with an Iowa (#15, #14) team that has not forgotten who ended their undefeated 2009 season in Iowa City. November 20 will bring an exciting game against Illinois at Wrigley Field, but that “home” date is likely to feature more of a pro-Illini crowd. Lastly, the season ends with a visit to Wisconsin (#18, #16) on Thanksgiving weekend.

Of the Wildcats’ six remaining games, three are against teams ranked in the Top 20 while the other three match-ups create their own challenges. Pat Fitzgerald will have a lot to work on over the bye week, as Northwestern’s six toughest games loom on the other side.

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