Northwestern looks to keep big goals in sight against Purdue

EVANSTON, Ill. (AP) A school record for wins and a spot in a prestigious bowl are still there for Northwestern's taking. The Wildcats could even play for the Big Ten championship.

They cannot afford a slip-up.

No. 24 Northwestern comes into Saturday's game against Purdue eyeing its third straight win after back-to-back blowout losses, its sights set on some rather lofty goals.

''We try to take everything week by week, but the bigger picture was addressed,'' said offensive lineman Matt Frazier, a senior.

Northwestern (7-2, 3-2 Big Ten), which played its first game in 1882, has never won more than 10 times in a season. The Wildcats could do it if they win out and win the conference championship game. To get there, they need help but they are still in line for a prestigious bowl as long as they don't stumble.

They're facing a struggling team in Purdue (2-7, 1-4 Big Ten) but have to go to Wisconsin next week before facing Illinois at Soldier Field on Nov. 28.

''A big thing that our senior class - our legacy that we want to leave - if we win out the rest of our games, we'll be the first Northwestern team to win 11 games in a season,'' cornerback Nick VanHoose said. ''And that's the best in Northwestern's history. You look at long-term goals, that's something you definitely want to achieve.''

Northwestern looked like it might be collapsing after blowout losses at Michigan (38-0) and to Iowa (40-10) at home. But the Wildcats regrouped with two-point wins at Nebraska and against Penn State at Ryan Field to move back into the Top 25.

Now, they're going up against a team trying to beat a ranked opponent for the first time since a win over No. 23 Illinois in 2011. The Boilermakers got blasted by the Illini last week, allowing 595 yards in a 48-14 romp.

''I think, if you can get a spark, that will get things to start to roll, but we needed to have a spark on Saturday in some phase of that game early, especially after they went down and scored pretty quickly,'' Purdue coach Darrell Hazell said.


Northwestern's Justin Jackson is coming off a career game against Penn State and could be in line for another big one, considering Purdue is allowing a league-worst 205.1 yards rushing. That bodes well for the sophomore, who carried 28 times for a career-high 186 yards versus the Nittany Lions. He became the 10th Northwestern player to hit the 2,000-yard mark and ranks ninth on the program's all-time list with 2,104 yards.


Somehow, most of Purdue's top performances have come on the road this season. The Boilermakers nearly won at Marshall, challenged Michigan State at East Lansing and were competitive at Wisconsin. Now, after a dismal showing at home against Illinois, Purdue has a chance to pose another big challenge, this time at Northwestern.


Purdue running back Markell Jones has averaged 5.51 yards per carry this season, fourth nationally among freshmen, and his seven TD runs also rank fourth nationally among freshmen backs.


Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson is expected to play after missing most of last week's game because of a lower-body injury. He left after getting hit by Penn State's Carl Nassib following a pass to Christian Jones late in the first quarter. Zack Oliver came in and passed for a touchdown while running for another one, but having Thorson should be a boost for the Wildcats. He has 1,177 yards passing and is Northwestern's second-leading rusher with 312 yards. Thorson has six passing touchdowns and a team-best five rushing.


With interceptions the past two games, VanHoose is making his presence felt. That includes a 72-yard touchdown return against Nebraska, one of three for Northwestern. The Wildcats are tied for the Big Ten lead.