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The Journal Gazette

  • Associated Press Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson suffered a torn ACL in December after throwing for 2,800 yards.

Thursday, August 30, 2018 1:00 am

Boilers have stiff test in opener

Wildcats, 10-3 last season, look to dim spotlight game

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

Purdue vs. Northwestern

Where: Ross-Ade Stadium, West Lafayette

When: 8 p.m. today

TV: ESPN

Radio: 1380 AM

All eyes will be on Ross-Ade Stadium when Purdue takes the field tonight for the first time this season.

The matchup between the Boilermakers and Northwestern is the only one of tonight's 12 FBS games that features two teams from Power Five conferences. With the game playing out on ESPN, Purdue has a chance to show a national audience that its momentum from 2017 has carried over into this season.

“I know our guys are going to take the field the way we should,” coach Jeff Brohm said. “In the end, every game is a one-game season for us, but this is an extremely important game. It's the first game of the year. It's at home. It's a conference game, and we need to try to find a way to win.”

The Wildcats pose a stiff opening test. They finished last season playing as well as anyone in the country, winning their final eight games after a 2-3 start, leaving them with the longest winning streak among all Power Five teams entering this season. Purdue's Big Ten West Division rivals were No. 17 in last season's final AP poll.

One of the most important matchups to watch is the battle in the trenches between Purdue's inexperienced front seven and the Wildcats' revamped rushing offense. When Northwestern beat Purdue 23-13 last season, it did so mostly through the air, with quarterback Clayton Thorson throwing for nearly 300 yards and a touchdown.

The Boilermakers held All-Big Ten running back Justin Jackson to just 46 yards on 25 carries, but the stellar defensive line that bottled up the powerful Jackson is mostly gone. None of the four starters on this year's line had a tackle in last year's game, and only Lorenzo Neal played a significant role at all last season. That leaves untested starters Giovanni Reviere, Kai Higgins and Anthony Watts in important spots.

Purdue defensive coordinator Nick Holt said the game plan will be somewhat simplified for the new starters at defensive line and linebacker.

“(We've) just got to get them to get a good feel for the game,” Holt said. “Just let them relax and just play football. We don't want to be all over the lot with a bunch of different calls and different looks. We need to get lined up early in the game and make sure we tackle.”

The Boilermakers won't have to deal with Jackson, who graduated after running for more than 1,000 yards four times. The Wildcats think they have a star in sophomore Jeremy Larkin, however, and the 5-foot-10 back gashed Purdue for 6.8 yards per carry last season.

At quarterback, both teams have question marks. Brohm has spent the offseason giving no indication of who is leading the competition between Elijah Sindelar and David Blough. Sindelar torched Northwestern for 376 yards and two touchdowns last season but had to throw 60 times because Purdue fell behind early.

Brohm has said he won't announce a starter until just before kickoff in order to force Northwestern to prepare for both players. He also hinted the competition hasn't been completely decided yet.

“We'll make sure that whoever is in there will utilize their talents and we'll do things that they do well,” Brohm said. “I think if both happen to play, that they can step in and do a good job for us.”

The Wildcats face no quarterback controversy, but Thorson tore his ACL in the Music City Bowl and is questionable to play today. He threw for more than 2,800 yards and completed 60 percent of his passes last season.

The Boilermakers are preparing as if Thorson will play.

“Absolutely,” Holt said. “I'm sure if they have another guy in he'll be effective too, but we're expecting their best. We can't control that, we've just got to focus in on ourselves.”

Everyone else will be focusing on them too.

dsinn@jg.net