This week is Homecoming, and there should be chocolate gifts for all. To me, it is also a must-win game for Purdue Football. Halfway through the season we're 3-3, but we're likely a play or two from being 5-1 (or, in reality, a play or two from 2-4). We haven't won consecutive games yet, but we also haven't lost consecutive games and we have looked much better after a loss. A lot of that has to do with the competition after a loss, but we've scored 103 points after a loss and have only given up 17.
Illinois is not Minnesota or SEMO. They are a ranked team coming in that has played surprisingly good football tot his point. They are, however, flawed. Western Michigan and Northwestern showed that they can be exploited defensively and Ohio State showed their offense can be slowed down. They're coming off of their first loss of the season, and other than the win over Arizona State they haven't beaten a really good team yet. This is also a trophy game for us, as Illinois currently holds the Cannon after we had won it for five straight contests.
2010 Record: 7-6, 4-4
Bowl result: Won Texas Bowl 38-14 over Baylor
Blog Representation: Hail to the Orange
Series with Purdue: Illinois leads 42-38-6 (Purdue leads The Cannon portion 30-27-2)
Last Purdue win: 10/24/2009 at Purdue 24-14
Last Illinois win: 10/30/2010 at Illinois 44-10
It is consistency versus inconsistency. We continue the Caleb TerBush and Robert Marve platoon, while Nathan Scheelhaase is clearly the Man in Champaign. Scheelhaase leads the team in rushing with 394 yards and four touchdowns. He's also been solid through the air with 1,407 yards and 11 TD's against five interceptions. A lot of his passing has been helped out by an all-Big Ten level performance from A.J. Jenkins. As Hail to the Orange said, the Ohio State game turned on their mistakes. Scheelhaase is still a better runner than Marve and TerBush and Ron Zook at least lets him get in a rhythm. Edge: Illinois
Scheelhaase gets the job done on the ground, but Troy Pollard and Jason Ford provide plenty of support with over 300 yards rushing total. Ford has found the end zone five times and they help Illinois average over 200 yards per game on the ground. It is their balance that gives the Fighting Illini such an advantage offensively. Scheelhaase's mobility and passing game means this is far from a one-dimensional team. Fortuantely, we proved that Ralph Bolden and Akeem Shavers can be pretty solid in their own right. It is my hope we commit to them again, but Illinois still has an edge because of Scheelhaase. Slight Edge: Illinois
We dodged a bullet with Derek Moye being out, but we simply must cover A.J. Jenkins or he will have a Micheal Floyd-like day. He had 895 yards receiving already and seven touchdowns as the No. 1 threat on every play. Spencer Harris and Darius Millines provide support, while Evan Wilson is a solid red zone threat. We don't have anyone who is even close to the caliber of Jenkins. Antavian Edison continues to be the shiftiest receiver in space but the Penn State game showed that we need to have the passing game support the run more than anything. Edge: Illinois
This should be interesting. We have struggled to generate a pass rush, but Illinois has given up almost three sacks per game from their line. Ryan Russell provided a bit of a spark last week, so he could see some success. I also like that we had Kawann Short as an end on certain down to help against the run. It was announced this week that Kevin Pamphile will move to the offensive line, and he has the size and reach to be very successful. Our own line will need to play light years better against a defense that has registered 26 sacks. Edge: Even
This is a major advantage for Illinois. Whitney Mercilus has 10 sacks already and with Caleb TerBush notorious for holding on to the ball too long he could have a big day. Michael Buchanan also has five sacks. Our quarterbacks are going to be under assault all day long. We haven't been able to provide protection at all, and we have generated very little pass rush. With Robert Maci being hurt and Gerald Gooden underperforming I don't have high expectations. Major Edge: Illinois
Illinois has a good run defense, but the return of Dan Herron saw them give up a 100-yard rusher last week. They give up just under 100 yards on the ground per game. Trulon Henry, Ian Thomas, and Jonathon Brown are all their top tacklers, showing that they are active at all three linebacker positions. Brown has 47 stops and 3.5 sacks, so we need to keep him out of the backfield. Henry also has two interceptions showing he is active in the passing game. On our end we should be worried. Will Lucas, Joe Holland, and Dwayne Beckford continue to be virtually invisible in games. They don't get tackles for loss, but they were at least respectable against the run last week. Edge: Illinois
Now that E.J. Johnson is cleared, I think he should start. My reasoning is that our safeties are continually nowhere to be seen in the middle of the field on passing downs, but Johnson was a ballhawk for a two-time state champion in high school. Could he really be worse than what we have seen so far? Ricardo Allen and Josh Johnson will have to stop Jenkins. I expect Allen to have safety help, assuming we have learned our lesson from the Notre Dame game. Illinois' stats are skewed from last week seeing as how Ohio State threw only four times for fourteen yards. Tavon Wilson and Terry Hawthorne are both very good corners and Steve Hull and Supo Sanni are decent tacklers at safety, and overall Illinois gives up less than 200 yards per game through the air. Edge: Illinois
This was a disaster for us last week, and I am convinced that unless Carson Wiggs through the back of the end zone we cannot cover kickoffs. Fortunately, Illinois averages only 16.4 yards on kickoff returns. Raheem Mostert could have some room too since they have already given up a touchdown. I'm willing to give Wiggs a one-bad-game pass, but he has to get his head back on straight this week. Derek Dimke is a perfect 7 for 7 on field goal for them, but Justin DuVernois struggles in the punting game. Edge: Purdue
We all know J.B. Gibboney is a major disadvantage in special teams coverage, but overall I was pleased with the way the coaching staff got the players to bounce back after major mistakes last week. We could have folded several times, but we were able to answer mistakes with sustained drives for points. It was at least an improvement over the el foldo we had in the Notre Dame game. Ron Zook has done a good job this year and earned himself another year with consecutive bowl games. Edge: Illinois
On paper it looks like Illinois has a pretty big advantage everywhere. I expect their defensive line to get after us and their offense is multi-dimensional. We failed to slow it down last season in a very ugly loss.
Still, I have a very good feeling about this game. Illinois did virtually nothing on offense last week. In fact, they helped Ohio State win with a pair of short fields after turnovers. Ohio State's touchdown drives were 1 play, 12 yards and 3 plays, 37 yards because of mistakes. The rest of the day they were fine, but the offense did little else against the Buckeyes.
For us to win we have to cover Jenkins because he is the top option on every pass play. We also need to be stout against a versatile running game. We have to get after Scheelhaase and force him into mistakes. We also have to commit to the ground game and hold on to the football. Illinois has scored 66 points in the first quarter of their first six games, so we have to keep them from getting off to a fast start. If we do that, we have a chance.
This is a good team, but hardly an unbeatable team. Our best bet is to polish up the mistakes we made at Penn State and hope for the best.