EVANSTON, Illinois — David Blough's frustration was as clear as the pained expression on his face.
Purdue's quarterback sees enough promising moments to believe that the Boilermakers are ready to emerge. Yet, they continue to come up short.
"It's frustrating when you can execute so well for snippets of the game," Blough said. "But when you need it the most, we had a couple of three-and-outs back to back. It's incredibly frustrating."
Blough threw a 68-yard touchdown to Domonique Young on Purdue's first play from scrimmage after Northwestern opened the game with a touchdown drive. The Boilermakers (2-8, 1-5 Big Ten) also marched 71 yards to start the second half for a tying TD.
But those flashes were just that — flashes.
With a school record for wins and a spot in a prestigious bowl in reach, Northwestern (8-2, 4-2 Big Ten, No. 18 CFP) pulled out another close game.
Jackson plowed in from the 2 with 4:37 remaining to cap a 58-yard drive.
The Wildcats were facing third-and-14 at the Purdue 37 when quarterback Clayton Thorson broke off back-to-back 16-yard runs to put the ball on the 5. They converted four third downs on the drive, including the TD by Jackson. He wasn't sure he got in until he heard the play stood following a review.
That lifted Northwestern to its third straight win — the Wildcats beat both Nebraska and Penn State by two points in their last two games.
The streak comes after Northwestern got blown out by Michigan (38-0) and Iowa (40-10).
"You go into the locker room after games like that — you're frustrated, you're not very pleased, but you know that you've got a good team," coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "You just got to find a way as a coach to get it out of the guys."
Purdue (2-8, 1-5) dropped its second straight and remained winless against ranked teams since 2011.
"It's that last quarter and one-half where we got to make a play," coach Darrell Hazell said. "We have to make a play."
Blough completed 26 of 45 passes for 287 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Along with that long touchdown to Young, the freshman had several passes broken up by the secondary.
"We took advantage of it the first play — how aggressive they are," Blough said. "But they make those windows tight. To make those throws you have to be spot on."
Young, who came in with 60 yards this season, finished with a career-high 107 on five catches. And Markell Jones carried 13 times for 58 yards before suffering an unspecified lower-body injury midway through the third quarter.
For Northwestern, Jackson followed a career-high 186-yard game against Penn State with another solid performance against an opponent that came in allowing a league-worst 205.1 yards rushing.
Long had a 32-yard touchdown on the opening drive and scored from the 1 midway through the second quarter to give Northwestern a 14-7 lead. He ran for 52 yards and Northwestern finished with 250 rushing.
Thorson threw for 82 yards and ran for 48 after leaving last week's game with a lower-body injury. Zack Oliver added 50 yards passing.
Jones tied it for Purdue early in the third quarter with a 2-yard run.
The Wildcats had the ball on the Purdue 28 when Brandon Roberts intercepted Oliver on the first play of the fourth quarter. But again, the Boilermakers went nowhere.
AP college football website: collegefootball.ap.org