Week 8 Preview: #23 Illinois @ Purdue

After last week’s loss to the Ohio State Buckeyes, this will be a must-win for the confidence of Illinois. But, this is also a must-win for their opponent this Saturday, the Purdue Boilermakers. Illinois will travel to West Lafayette, Indiana this Saturday and play Big Ten Opponent Purdue for the Cannon Rivalry Trophy . The Fighting Illini will look to elevate themselves further and stop their doubters this weekend against a Boilermaker football team without an identity.

Purdue enters this game with a record of 3-3 overall and 1-1 in Big Ten play. Purdue’s first two games of the season were mirror opposites. Purdue cornerback Ricardo Allen blocked a game-tieing field goal in the final seconds to secure the Boiler win over Middle Tennessee State. The following weekend, the roles were reversed when Purdue kicker Carson Wiggs had his game winner blocked. Other games for the Boilers this year, were an embarrassing loss to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. The Boilers lost the game right from the first snap. Purdue struggled just to stay in the spotlight. After blowout wins against Southeastern Missouri State and Big Ten rival Minnesota, the Boilers played a decent game and lost against JoePa and Penn State. Missed point opportunities, turnovers, and errors cost the Boilers a good chance they had at winning that game.

But we Illini had our own share of mistakes and turnovers last week also, against the Buckeyes.

Last year Illinois dominated the Boilers at home in Champaign, Illinois by a score of 44-10. The Illini held the Purdue offense to just 205 total yards with only 52 yards in the air. Nathan Scheelhaase beat the Boilers entire offense posting 313 total yards of offense with 195 yards passing and 118 yards rushing. He also had a career high completion percentage (80%) by completing 16 out of 20 passing attempts. Scheelhaase received a QB rating of 227.9 for last year’s game, also a career high. This is a very much improved Illinois football team than last year.

On the flip side, the Purdue Boilermakers were stunning last year. That’s right, stunning with a 4-8 record. They were plagued with injuries. The Boilermakers were forced to play with what they had. They lost a starting quarterback (Robert Marve), a star wide receiver (Keith Smith), and were also without starting running back Ralph Bolden. Even without these starters, the Boilers almost pulled upsets over Michigan and Michigan State. They lost to Wisconsin, but no until the 4th quarter. Overall, most of their games were decided by fewer than 11 points. That’s actually impressive when you consider they were missing three key starters on offense. Marve and Bolden are both back this year. Last year’s injuries were a blessing in disguise for the Boilermakers. It gave unlikely players field time. Time that they wouldn’t have received otherwise. These Boilers are back and ready. The Illinois are already bowl-bound, BUT Purdue needs this win in order to keep their Bowl hopes alive. The Boilers schedule doesn’t get pretty the rest of the season. This year, the Boilers have a great depth at the running back position. There’s basically the possibility of a 4 or 5 running back rotation if need be. I’m gonna guess that the Boilers will rotate between quarterbacks Caleb Terbush and Robert Marve like they have thus far. The Boilers are an offense without identity, but this identity could be found at anytime. On the defensive side, the Illini will have to watch out for the Boiler secondary. In particular,  sophomore cornerback Ricardo Allen. I’ve seen all his interceptions live and many of those were pick 6′s. Ricardo Allen is one of the fastest players on the Boiler Defense. He probably has a 4.4 second 40 yard dash on a bad day. The Purdue Boilermakers will not make this an easy win. Purdue posted a one win record mid-season 2 years ago and were still able to pull an upset at home over top-ranked Ohio State.

Now let’s break down our Illini. This has been a great year for the Illini. Even with the loss to Ohio State, Illinois has accomplished a lot. Even with their doubters out there, a 6-1 record doesn’t lie. Illinois is currently ranked 7th in the nation in 3rd down efficiency (53.1%). They also lead the Big Ten in fewest penalties committed per game (4.14) and are 10th nationally.  The Fighting Illini have rushed for 1,473 this season while holding opponents to only 689 yards on the ground. Wide receiver A.J. Jenkins is tied for the national lead with 14 plays of 20 or more yards, and 4 plays of 50 or more yards. Senior running back Troy Pollard is averaging 9.2 yards a carry. Troy Pollard isn’t even the Illini starting running back. Illinois has it’s own decent depth at running back with Jason Ford, Troy Pollard, and Donovonn Young. Illinois also posts a dual threat in Nathan Scheelhaase. Not only is Scheelhaase deadly on the ground, but he’s ranked 7th nationally averaging 9.1 yards per pass. The most impressive play so far this season for the Illini, has been the play of defensive end Whitney Mercilus. He is #1 IN THE NATION in total sacks (10.0), sacks per game (1.43), and forced fumbles (5). For all you Purdue fans out there, think of him as our Ryan Kerrigan.
This game can be won by either team. Illinois showed that it’s mistakes can cost them the game. Even with Purdue lacking an offensive identity, Illinois doesn’t want to give them the chance. If Illinois can keep the pressure on Purdue’s quarterbacks, their secondary should be able to take advantage of the Boiler’s lack of talent at wide receiver. A.J. Jenkins will have his hands full against cornerback Ricardo Allen. But Ricardo Allen was shown how to be defeated when Notre Dame came to town.
The difference maker will be Purdue’s weakness against the run game. Notre Dame took advantage of it. With the Illini depth at running back and Scheelhaase’s running ability, this should be a 7th win for the Illinois Fighting Illini. BUT NO MISTAKES! Look for Illinois to clean up their mistakes and route the Boilers in a repeat performance of last year. Sorry fellow Boilers, but I’ve got the the Illini winning this one. Illinois is one of the Big Ten’s best teams on the ground.
Prediction: Illinois 28 over Purdue 17
Bad coaching will cost the Boilers and Illinois’ skill will prevail. I’ll be at this game and welcome all to join.

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