Purdue's Rondale Moore races to the end zone for a touchdown against Northwestern during the first half of an NCAA college football game Thursday, Aug. 30, 2018, in West Lafayette, Ind. (John Terhune/Journal & Courier via AP)
Friday, August 31, 2018 12:40 am
Purdue falls to Northwestern, 31-27
DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette
WEST LAFAYETTE –
How it Happened
Elijah Sindelar struggled in the first half, throwing three interceptions, so David Blough started the second half for Purdue. He led the Boilermakers on a scoring drive on his first possession in less than two minutes, aided by a 45-yard rush from DJ Knox. Knox also scored the touchdown–from two yards out–slicing Purdue's deficit to 31-24. Blough rushed for seven yards and threw for 13 on the drive.
Purdue kicked a field goal at the start of the fourth quarter after a 6:46, 76-yard drive to draw within four, but couldn't score again in the quarter. It looked like Purdue would have one final shot after the defense stopped Northwestern for a loss on a 3rd-and-10 with a 2:30 to go, but defensive lineman Lorenzo Neal committed an unnecessary roughness penalty "after" the play (it was a very questionable call) and Northwestern got a fresh set of downs and was able to almost kneel the game out.
Purdue got the ball to open the game and seemed poised to do something with it, gaining three straight first downs. With the ball in Northwestern territory, however, quarterback Sindelar threw a deep ball into double coverage and it was intercepted, giving Northwestern the ball at their own 36 after the return. The first Wildcat play from scrimmage went for four yards, but redshirt freshman Giovanni Reviere committed a hands-to-the-face penalty to add 15 yards the play. Northwestern moved down the field with short and medium gains and Purdue couldn't stop them. Eventually, running back Jeremy Larkin walked in from a yard out to make it 7-0 Wildcats.
After Purdue went three-and-out, the Wildcats moved the ball again. This time, the yardage was mostly gained on one big play, a 46-yard burst up the middle from Larkin. Larkin had a massive hole in the line to run through, emblematic of Purdue's struggles to get a consistent rush going. At the end of the play, Larkin threw a huge stiff-arm at cornerback Tim Cason and got a few extra yards. John Moten IV capped off the drive with a 2-yard dive through the left side of the line to put Northwestern up 14.
The Boilermakers wasted little time answering, thanks in large part to true freshman Rondale Moore, the team's top recruit in the 2018 class. Moore broke two tackles and returned the kickoff to the 40 yard line. After a couple of quick-strike throws, Sindelar looked over the middle and saw Moore crossing with no safety help over the top. He threw a perfect strike and Moore made a fingertip grab above the defender, running uncontested the rest of the way for a 32-yard touchdown. The drive was 60 yards in just 1:14 to get the silenced crowd back into it.
The next time Purdue got the ball, it tried to get the ball to Moore more often. That turned out to be a good plan. On 3rd-and-1 from his own 24, Sindelar handed the ball to Moore on a jet sweep to the left. Instead of going all the way outside, Moore cut back to the inside, made a man miss and saw nothing but green, outracing everyone for an absurd 76-yard touchdown to even the score at 14 with 1:02 to go in the opening quarter. He was simply faster than everyone else on the field.
Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson left the game for a few series to get some rest for his still-healing knee and Purdue stopped the Wildcats with quarterback TJ Green in the game. When Thorson came back, however, he needed just 59 seconds to lead another touchdown drive. He started the drive with a deep jump ball that former Homestead standout Bennett Skowronek pulled down for a 40-yard gain (though he might have pushed off). Skowronek was hurt on the play and had to come out – he would later return – but two plays later, Green came in and punched the ball in for a 1-yard touchdown on a quarterback keeper to make it 24-14 midway through the second quarter.
Purdue got a field goal, but the next time the Boilers had the ball, Sindelar threw off one foot and falling away from his target and the ball was intercepted by Devin O'Rourke at the Purdue 47 and returned to the 30-yard-line. Larkin ran four times from there to punch the ball in and make it 31-17 at halftime.
Player of the Game: Rondale Moore
In his first college game, Moore was the breakout star. He scored twice and gained 188 yards rushing and receiving and added 125 on kickoff returns for a total of 313 all-purpose yards. That total sets a Purdue record. The previous record was 312 yards and Moore had 302 at halftime. He also scored twice. Even in defeat, it's clear he's a special talent.
Facts and Figures
The game opened the 131st season of Purdue football. It was the first time since 1996 the Boilermakers had opened against a Big Ten opponent. ... The loss is Purdue's first in a home-opener in 15 seasons. ... Purdue has lost five in a row against Northwestern since 2010, when Danny Hope was coach. ... Northwestern held the ball for the final 7:57. ... After an offseason quarterback battle, Sindelar started for the Boilermakers and went 18 of 30 for 196 yards, with no touchdowns and three interceptions. The Wildcats got 21 points off of Sindelar's three picks. ... Blough went 12 of 16 for 74 yards and ran for 19 yards. ... Moten IV's first-quarter touchdown was his first since 2016. ... Moore's 76-yard touchdown was the longest rush for Purdue since an 82-yard score from Akeem Hunt against Indiana in 2014. ... Purdue outgained Northwestern 472-401. ... Former Bishop Dwenger cornerback Antonio Blackmon had five tackles for Purdue. Former Homestead wideout Bennett Skowronek had had three catches for 47 yards for the Wildcats. ... Northwestern backup quarterback Green is the son of former IU quarterback and 15-year NFL veteran Trent Green.
The Boilermakers are back in action on Saturday, Sept. 8 for their first non-conference game of the season against Eastern Michigan. The game will be at Ross-Ade Stadium and will kick off at 12 p.m. EST. Eastern Michigan, a member of the MAC, went 5-7 last season, including 3-5 in conference play. The Eagles beat Rutgers 16-13 and all seven of their losses came by seven points or fewer, including three in overtime. Purdue has played EMU twice and won both games handily, most recently in 2012.