Purdue’s last road trip of the regular season will be a unique one.
Instead of traveling to Ryan Field in Evanston to play Northwestern (3-7, 1-6 Big Ten) on Saturday, the Boilermakers (6-4, 4-3 Big Ten) are headed to Wrigley Field for a neutral site game.
Purdue hasn’t played a regular season neutral site game since 2017, when it opened head coach Jeff Brohm’s tenure with a loss to a Lamar Jackson-led Louisville team in Lucas Oil Stadium.
The last time the Boilers played in a baseball stadium came in 1947, when they faced Boston University at Fenway Park. The game went into the record books as a true road contest because Fenway was listed as BU’s home stadium at the time.
The game will serve as a kind of family reunion for fifth-year quarterback Aidan O’Connell. He grew up in Long Grove, on Chicago’s north side. He also said he’d have immediate and extended family and friends in the stands Saturday.
“It’ll be kind of like the last time we played at Ryan Field, Northwestern, I had a lot of family (there),” O’Connell said.
The gridiron has been painted in right field, with both end zones running right up to the walls around the stadium and the wall along the first baseline angling in to run along the sideline around the 20-yard line.
The unique spacing means both teams will set up along the same sideline, a situation Brohm said he’d encountered when he was a quarterbacks coach at Illinois. The Fighting Illini’s rivalry game against Northwestern in the 2010 season also took place at Wrigley.
Brohm said the referees may end up giving teams more time to substitute players onto the field when the line of scrimmage sits farther to one side than the other and give coaches “a little more leeway” in stepping onto the field to deliver playcall signals.
Purdue will need to overcome the logistical challenges of the field to rebound from its loss against then-No. 4 Ohio State and secure its best regular-season finish since 2007. Those challenges are compounded by Purdue’s recent history against Northwestern.
The Boilers are 4-8 against the Wildcats since the start of Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald’s tenure in 2006 — the teams did not play for the 2011-2013 seasons because of the Big Ten’s “Leaders and Legends” division structure and cross-division scheduling at the time — and 1-3 against the Cats since Brohm’s tenure began.
But the Boilers may be able to overcome their history this year. Northwestern’s defense is allowing 26.9 points per game this season, its highest average since Brohm came to the program and a far cry from the stifling 15.89 PPG the Wildcats averaged last season.
The Wildcats’ offense is also scoring just 17 points per game compared to Purdue’s 25.4. If O’Connell and the offense can keep up the momentum they’ve shown in the last three games, the Boilers should be able to comfortably outscore the Cats and head into the Old Oaken Bucket game with some regained momentum.
“We have a chance at a special season still,” O’Connell said. “We’ve wanted to win some games we’ve unfortunately lost, but also have had some big wins this year. This is going to be a huge week, a huge test for our team coming off a tough loss.
“This would be a huge win for our program.”