I am trying to keep the good vibes going. If anyone listened to the Boiled Sports podcast Tuesday night I made a pretty bold statement. I said that as good as the Ohio State win was, losing to Illinois would be 10 times worse. As a result, I am watching the video of the Ohio State win as I write this, hoping it carries over into the blog.
It is true though. If we can beat Ohio State, there is absolutely no reason we should lose to Illinois. You do not often get a chance to play the best team in the conference, then the worst team in the conference the very next week. I would even take it a step further. With Ohio State, we may have played the best team on our schedule last week (though Oregon may be better since they have a real offense). I think Illinois is the worst team on our schedule. They proved last week they are worse than Indiana. I think they are worse than Toledo (who beat NIU last week) and Northern Illinois. This is a team that has quit on its season already. They need to win their remaining games (one of which is against one of the nation's last unbeaten teams) just to qualify for a bowl. Unless we see some unexpected fight from the Illini Saturday, they are done.
2008 Record: 5-7, 3-5 Big Ten
2009 Record: 1-5, 0-4
Bowl result: No Bowl
Blog Representation: Hail to the Orange
Series with Purdue: Illinois leads 41-37-6 (Purdue leads The Cannon portion 29-26-2)
Last Purdue win: 11/11/2006 at Illinois 42-31
Last Illinois win: 10/12/2002 at Illinois 38-31 (OT)
This may be one of the least celebrated trophy games in the Big Ten, but it is one of the closest overall. We have had the Cannon in our possession since 2003, but the recent two-year hiatus in the series means that we only have four straight wins. Speaking as a Purdue fan, the Illinois game really doesn't feel like much of a rivalry. There has never been a ton at stake, as both teams haven't exactly torn up the Big Ten at the same time for quite awhile.
This is the main reason that any loss to the Illini would be awful. Their offense, especially if you take away the 45-17 win over Illinois State (a 1-AA team), has been abysmal. That one win represents 45 of the 99 points the team has scored through six games. Not only has Illinois managed just one first half touchdown against a 1-A foe, they have only led one game against a 1-A opponent for about five minutes. That occurred last week at Indiana when the Illini led the Hoosiers 7-3 with 5:27 left in the first half. Illinois gave up 10 points in the final minute of the half, and never threatened again.
I don't even know who we will face at quarterback. Juice Williams (80 of 143, 4 touchdowns, 4 interceptions) is the Big Ten's most experienced quarterback, but he has already been benched in favored of Eddie McGee (21 of 41, 1 touchdown, 3 interceptions). There is even talk of third string quarterback Jacob Charest, a redshirt freshman, getting some time Saturday. Charest has yet to take a snap in his collegiate career, so if he plays it will officially label Illinois as desperate. Illinois has only passed for 1,128 yards between Williams and McGee.
For a true preview of Saturday, just reverse the 9 and 4 on the jersey. The result of this play (a sack, strip, and fumble recovery for a TD) will likely be the same.
Whoever plays, they will likely become well acquainted with Ryan Kerrigan, Mike Neal, and the rest of our defensive line by the end of the day. The Illinois offensive line is among the worst in the Big Ten, giving up a league high 19 sacks. If our defensive line is not dominating and causing pressure all day something is severely wrong. This is especially true since these guys just played like warriors against Ohio State.
Illinois is not moving the ball well on the ground, either. Williams is the leading rusher with only 239 yards and one touchdown. Jason Ford (222-1), Daniel Dufrene (199-1), and Mikel Leshoure (163-2) form a running back by committee approach that is far from effective. McGee also has a pair of rushing touchdowns, so he is a threat to run if he plays. One has to remember though that the bulk of these numbers, running and passing, have been put up either against Illinois State or after the game is well decided. Illinois has not been in a game against a 1-A foe except last week against Indiana.
If they can get him the ball, there is a bit of a danger at wide receiver. Arrelious Benn was a preseason All-American, but he has only 22 catches for 271 yards and no touchdowns to lead Illinois receivers. As long as we cover him we will shut down Illinois' pathetic passing game. Jarred Fayson (11-119-1), Chris Duvalt (9-136-1), Leshoure (8-115-1), and A.J.Jenkins (7-100-1) have put up modest second half numbers, but again, this offense has literally done nothing in the first half of most games. They need to get the ball to Benn more, who is a playmaker, but they have been unable to.
This is a battered unit. They have already lost possibly their best player in Martez Wilson for the season. They may have lost their second best player, Donsay Hardeman, for his career last week. They are not getting to the quarterback with just six team sacks on the year. The offense is doing nothing to help them out, so the defense is getting worn down to the point where it is about as reliable as the Rhythm Method in preventing conception. They have also only forced seven turnovers (three interceptions, four fumbles), and three of those came against Illinois State. I kind of feel bad for them because they are undoubtedly playing hard, but they are getting zero help from their teammates.
Ian Thomas and Tavon Wilson lead the team in tackles with 43 apiece. Thomas has one of the team's sacks, while Wilson has one of the three interceptions. Doug Pilcher is a bit of a force on the defensive line as well. Pilcher has two sacks, 18 tackles, and an interception with a 41 yard return. Russell Ellington could also be a factor, as he has an interception with a 78 yard return. This is still not a fearsome unit.
Illinois is giving up over 28 points per game and their run defense is particularly bad. They are giving up about 180 yards on the ground, which is good for Ralph Bolden. Bolden has not had much room to run recently, and against Northwestern when he did have room we just kept fumbling the ball away. Look for Bolden to get over 100 yards for the first time since the Oregon game. McBurse and Taylor should also see some holes when they are in there. The pass defense is not much better, as it gives up 241 yards per game.
Honestly, we should only have trouble against their defense if we start giving the ball away again. Turnovers were still an issue last week against Ohio State, but we gave up no points off of them. Illinois does not force nearly as many turnovers as Ohio State does, so it once again comes down to us not shooting ourselves in the foot.
Illinois Special Teams:
And you thought their other units were bad. They have no punt return game (a long of nine yards), no kick return game (Benn is a dangerous returner, but only has a long of 33), and Matt Eller has hit on just half his field goals. Granted, the offense is not getting Eller in position to kick, as he is just 3 of 6 on the year with a long of 38.
One phrase we should get used to hearing is, "Anthony Santella is in punt formation". He averages almost six punts per game and has almost a 41 yard per kick average. Both coverage units on special teams for Illinois are merely average.
This is a team that is already beaten. I watched part of Saturday night's game at Indiana and they had no hustle or emotion whatsoever. Beating them would officially end their bowl hopes, as there is no way they will win their five games after this and qualify at 6-6. This is Illinois' last shot to save its season, but given their body language and effort so far it would be a total shock to see them suddenly turn things on. Though Purdue and Illinois have similar record, Purdue has fought hard and has been in every single game. Illinois hasn't even been close, and they have rolled over and died since the opener against Missouri.
The one Illinois blog, Hail to the Orange, has already virtually given up and jumped to basketball content. Their last two game wraps of Rock Bottom and Failing on all Cylinders show that confidence in the football program is at an all time low. There is no doubt that Illinois has more talent than a lot of teams, but that talent is severely underperforming in all phases of the game at the moment. They are even one of the most penalized teams in the league. I am not even going to mention the gigantic Ron Zook intangible right now. Every writer in the Big Ten is saying enough about his epic level of fail at the moment.
Contractually obligated Ron Zook blog picture. He will likely soon have plenty of time for his hobbies, such as fighting Boilerdowd to the death.
Purdue, meanwhile, is as high as it has been in about five years. Even the 8-6 season of 2006 and 8-5 season of 2007 did not have a moment that was a tenth as important as last week against Ohio State. As long as we don't go out and pull a Northern Illinois we will be fine.
Keys to the game for Purdue:
- Hogtie the team that showed up against Northern Illinois
- Don't turn the ball over
- Maintain last week's momentum
- Run the ball with Bolden, McBurse, and Taylor
- Dominate along the defensive line