Northwestern turned three first-half interceptions into touchdowns and held on for a 31-27 Big Ten victory over Purdue on Thursday night at Ross-Ade Stadium.
Sophomore running back Jeremy Larkin rushed for 143 yards and two touchdowns while senior quarterback Clayton Thorson threw for 172 yards in his return to the field eight months and one day after tearing the ACL in his right knee while catching a pass during Northwestern’s Music City Bowl win.
Purdue freshman receiver Rondale Moore racked up 313 all-purpose yards in his college debut - setting the school record — and scored two touchdowns for the Boilermakers (0-1, 0-1). The four-star recruit from New Albany, Ind., finished with 125 kick return yards, 109 receiving yards and 79 rushing yards as he touched the ball 18 times.
Northwestern (1-0, 1-0), which opened its season with a Big Ten game for the first time since 1984, wasted no time flipping Purdue miscues into scores.
With the Boilermakers marching on the game’s first possession, junior quarterback Elijah Sindelar threw deep into double coverage and sophomore safety JR Pace picked him off. That inspired a 64-yard drive capped by Larkin’s 1-yard saunter into the end zone.
Northwestern pushed its lead to 14-0 with 5:34 left in the first quarter on backup running back John Moten IV’s 2-yard blast, but that’s when Purdue started feeding Moore. He snagged a 32-yard touchdown pass from Sindelar, then danced through two tacklers and sprinted 76 yards down the left sideline to pull Purdue into a 14-14 knot with 1:02 to go in the first.
The Wildcats regained momentum in the second quarter as they turned a one-handed interception by linebacker Nate Hall into a 1-yard sneak by backup redshirt freshman quarterback T.J. Green. Then Sindelar, while being dragged down by junior defensive tackle Alex Miller, made an ill-advised throw that senior cornerback Montre Hartage picked off and returned to Purdue’s 30. Larkin’s 4-yard touchdown run out of the Wildcat formation with 37 seconds left gave Northwestern a 31-17 halftime lead.
Thorson was listed as questionable early this week as 13th-year NU head coach Pat Fitzgerald preferred to keep everyone guessing. The fourth-year starter handled the first two series before Green, the son of former Pro Bowl quarterback Trent Green, played the next two series as part of NU’s “medically predetermined” plan. They split series the rest of the way, though Thorson played roughly two-thirds of the snaps.
Purdue removed Sindelar (18 of 30, 196 yards, three INTs) in the waning moments of the first half after his third interception. Fifth-year senior David Blough handled things the rest of the way and hit 12 of 16 passes for 74 yards.
The Wildcats didn’t score in the second half and didn’t secure the game until junior defensive tackle Lorenzo Neal was flagged for a dead-ball personal foul after the Boilermakers stacked up Larkin on third-and-long at Purdue’s 34 with 2:31 to play. That led to an automatic first down and the Boilermakers could not stop the clock again.
—Field Level Media