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COLLEGE FOOTBALL / WEEK 8

Purdue Victory Is No Slap on the Wrist

Big Ten: Boilermakers slow down Northwestern's no-huddle offense and take big step in Rose Bowl race with 41-28 win.

October 15, 2000|CHRIS DUFRESNE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

EVANSTON, Ill. — The rack-'em-up offense romped again and the Rose Bowl dream lives on.

Unfortunately for Northwestern, it was Purdue's offense and it is now Purdue's dream.

Proving the answer to a good no-huddle offense is a good no-huddle defense, No. 21 Purdue overcame two first-quarter haymakers Saturday and then routed No. 17 Northwestern, 41-28, before a crowd of 41,053 at Ryan Field.

You talk about about-faces.

Coming off a 52-point deluge against Indiana last week, Northwestern scored touchdowns on its first two possessions Saturday and appeared headed for another half-a-hundred outburst before the Purdue defense suddenly became the Purple People Eaters.

Go figure: Northwestern was up, 14-7, with 7:27 left in the first quarter when Purdue went on a 27-0 blitz that knocked the Wildcats from the Rose Bowl race into a probable run for the Motor City Bowl.

"I don't know what happened when it was 14-7," Northwestern Coach Randy Walker said. "When you get a couple of early scores like that you worry that it gets a little easier than you want it to be."

Easier?

Hardly. After amassing 127 yards on its first two scoring drives, Northwestern was held to a total of 20 net yards on its next seven possessions, a swing in which Purdue turned a 14-7 deficit into a 34-14 lead.

Reporters jammed Purdue's postgame tent to hear what adjustments defensive coordinator Brock Spack made after Northwestern's fast start.

The answer was?

Very little.

"We adjusted our coverages a bit and our players played harder," Spack said.

In truth, no team was better equipped to stop Northwestern's potent offense than Purdue's defense, which matches up against quarterback Drew Brees and Purdue's spread offense every day in practice.

So why the slow start?

The Boilermakers said it took a couple of drives for their defense to get a read on Northwestern, which entered the game averaging 37 points a game.

Spack's confidence did not wane. He knew Northwestern prefers to run out of its four-receiver sets and that Purdue's defense was No. 2 against the rush in the Big Ten.

No huddle?

No problem.

The Purdue players have their defensive assignments written on wristbands.

"In essence, we're a no-huddle defense," defensive tackle Matt Mitrione said. "We just huddle up for fashion, for the style points, I guess."

The wristband system worked.

Northwestern tailback Damien Anderson, who rushed for 200 or more yards the last two weeks, gained only 55 yards and averaged a paltry 3.2 yards in 17 carries.

The Purdue defense completely fouled up Northwestern's mechanics, denying Anderson room to run and sacking quarterback Zak Kustok four times.

Meanwhile, on offense, Brees got himself back in Heisman Trophy contention by throwing five touchdown passes while rushing for 56 yards in 16 carries.

That Brees would shred Northwestern is not a bulletin. In three games against the Wildcats in his career, Brees has completed 78 of 132 passes for 982 yards and 14 touchdowns.

Yet, as much as his passing hurt Northwestern, Brees' key runs on quarterback draws were almost as damaging.

"You've got to do what you've got to do," Brees said of his runs. "I didn't mind it at all today. It was open."

Everything was open. With tailback Montrell Lowe rushing for 174 yards in 26 carries, Purdue's offense became virtually unstoppable.

The Boilermakers finished with 461 yards: 222 rushing and 239 passing.

The final score only made the game seem close.

Late in the fourth quarter, Kustok's 41-yard touchdown pass to Teddy Johnson cut the Purdue lead to 34-21 but, after Northwestern's on-side kick attempt failed, Brees quickly hit John Standeford on a 43-yard scoring play to kill Northwestern's miracle-comeback plans.

Purdue's win changed the ever-changing complexion of the Big Ten race.

With Ohio State's loss to Minnesota, five Big Ten teams have one loss.

While Northwestern (5-2, 3-1) entered the day with a leg up in the Rose Bowl race, Purdue (5-2, 3-1) left Evanston with the advantage.

Purdue, in fact, controls its destiny.

If the Boilermakers win out against Wisconsin, Ohio State, Michigan State and Indiana, Purdue will go to its first Rose Bowl since Jan. 1, 1967.

Purdue, in fact, may kick itself at the end of the season for larger opportunities lost. A fake-punt call by Coach Joe Tiller likely cost Purdue in a two-point loss to Notre Dame. Purdue's other loss came on a last-second field goal at Penn State.

Mitrione says in the crazy world of college football, there is no sense looking too far back or ahead.

"It's hard to overlook someone in this conference," he said. "Every game is so big, there's so much weight on it. If you look past it, it's your fault."

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