Bowl game looking more likely after Northwestern crushes Purdue

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Northwestern running back Justin Jackson reacts to reaching the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the third season in a row and the team’s win over Purdue. (Teddy Greenstein/Chicago Tribune)

Yes, Northwestern fans, feel free to utter the b-word.

Scan those bowl projections. Study the locations. Jonesing to visit wine country? Think Foster Farms. Prefer to protest near Trump Tower? Cross your fingers for the Pinstripe Bowl.

Now, a warning: Northwestern still is not bowl eligible. And its 45-17 demolition of Purdue needs to be viewed in this context — it came against Purdue, which is pitiful.

But at 5-5 (4-3 Big Ten) with remaining games at Minnesota and against Illinois, Northwestern is primed to play in a bowl. And if the Wildcats can finish 7-5, they’re sure to play somewhere desirable.

For a team that started 0-2 with a home loss to Illinois State, that would be a nice accomplishment.

Now back to Saturday’s game, which was played at two-thirds empty Ross-Ade Stadium on a cloudless 52-degree day. (Official attendance: 30,548.)

Northwestern actually trailed 10-0, and Clayton Thorson made just enough questionable decisions and poor throws in the first half to keep it close. Score at halftime: 14-10.

But perhaps Purdue has been drinking spiked Gatorade at the half. In their previous three games, the Boilermakers were outscored 83-10 after the break. More of the same came Saturday.

Northwestern, which gained 605 yards, pounded away in its first drive in the third quarter. The Wildcats rushed five times for 69 yards, concluding with a nifty 14-yard TD run by Justin Jackson, who broke a tackle and scooted home.

The under-appreciated Jackson finished with 127 yards on 22 carries, and backup John Moten IV went for 119 yards on 16 carries. It marked NU’s first game with two 100-yard rushers since Treyvon Green and Kain Colter did it against Western Michigan in 2013.

The Boilermakers entered Saturday last in the Big Ten in scoring defense (37.7 per game), total defense (451.6 yards per game) and rush defense (5.7 yards per carry). Only Rutgers has a worse pass defense.

Photos from the game on Nov. 12, 2016, in West Lafayette, Ind.

The Wildcats took full advantage. Thorson played a tidy second half to finish 23-for-36 with 352 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. Austin Carr had another terrific game — five catches (92 yards), two for scores.

His 12 touchdown passes tied NU’s single-season school record with D’Wayne Bates, who caught that many in 1996.

One more for the books: Jackson became NU’s first ballcarrier to top 1,000 yards three times. And he’s a junior.

Twitter @TeddyGreenstein