WEST LAFAYETTE – Purdue is undefeated no longer.
The Boilermakers managed just two rushing yards on 17 attempts, Northwestern quarterback Peyton Ramsey threw three touchdown passes to Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman and the 23rd-ranked Wildcats overcame a career-best 100 receiving yards from Purdue's Zander Horvath to win 27-20 at Ross-Ade Stadium on Saturday evening.
The loss drops Purdue (2-1) out of first place in the Big Ten West. The Boilermakers' loss was the first for a Power Five football team from Indiana this season in 15 games. Notre Dame (8-0) and Indiana (4-0) remain unbeaten.
“We're disappointed to not be able to pull out the game,” Purdue coach Jeff Brohm said. “I thought it was a typical Big Ten football game, physical. Credit Northwestern. They did a really good job of shutting down the run. It seemed like we were going backwards when we ran the ball.
“I've gotta do a better job of being more creative and finding ways to manufacture yards because it just didn't happen this game. ... Any time you just rush for two yards, we all take blame, so I'm going to take the blame for that.”
The Wildcats (4-0) got the ball to start the game and went 75 yards in 14 plays over six minutes for a touchdown. Ramsey, an Indiana transfer, hit Chiaokhiao-Bowman for an 8-yard score to make it 7-0.
Midway through the second quarter, Purdue faced a fourth-and-1 at the Wildcats 40, trailing 10-3. The Boilers got creative, flooding the entire offense to the right except for tight end Garrett Miller, who went the opposite direction and found himself wide open. Quarterback Aidan O'Connell hit him with a short throw, and Miller outraced everyone for a touchdown to knot the score at 10. It was Miller's first career reception.
That was it as far as big plays for Purdue until late in the game. At halftime, the Boilers had only 106 total yards and trailed 17-10.
“We've gotta get the balance going again and find ways to create yards and drives,” Brohm said. “We were just very stale there early on, and it was a very disappointing first half.”
In the third quarter, Ramsey connected with Chiaokhiao-Bowman from 5 yards out to make it 24-10.
The Boilermakers not only struggled to run the ball, but also had trouble getting receivers open downfield. Brohm said the Wildcats, who came in with the No. 4 scoring defense in the country, did a good job of “being physical with our receivers and grabbing and holding.”
Purdue wideout David Bell, who came in with a Big Ten record five consecutive 100-yard receiving games, had nine catches for 78 yards but was unable to get over the top against Northwestern's secondary.
Brohm said O'Connell probably looked for Bell a little bit too much.
“(Cornerback) Greg Newsome had my number tonight,” Bell said. “He obviously watched film on me. He knew every move I was going to make, and I have to do a better job of reacting off him.”
Purdue found some success offensively beginning late in the third quarter. Horvath had been bottled up running the ball, but broke out when Purdue began running screens and swing passes for him. He had 74 of his receiving yards in the final 23 minutes.
On fourth-and-4 from the Northwestern 32 in the fourth quarter, Horvath caught a pass and was hit well behind the line to gain, but he kept his legs churning and broke a trio of tackles on his way to a first down. Later in the drive, O'Connell found Milton Wright with a 14-yard fade for a touchdown to bring the Boilermakers within 27-20.
“When you can't get a run game going, you have to switch it up,” Horvath said. “The receivers aren't always going to be open, so it's good to have the back out and just be another option for the quarterback to have.”
Purdue got the ball back twice in the final six minutes with a chance to tie the game, but Northwestern's defense stood tall and O'Connell's last ditch fourth-down pass in Bell's direction fell incomplete with less than two minutes left to send Northwestern to the victory.