Last week Purdue was dead in the water when it came to a bowl game while riding a five game losing streak. This week the bowl hopes are alive with a really bad Illinois team to face before coming home to play an Indiana team that lacks anything resembling a functioning run defense. There is at least a very small sense of pride and hope this week, where last week there was none.
This week is, of course, the Battle for the Purdue Cannon. The trophy dates back to 1943 and the Boilermakers and Fighting Illini have played for it 60 times. Purdue currently holds the trophy and a 31-27-2 edge in the Cannon portion of the rivalry having gone ahead by winning nine of the last 12 games. You always want to keep your trophy case full of the rivalry trophies, so a win on Saturday assures we win SOMETHING this year.
2011 Record: 7-6, 2-6 Big Ten
Bowl Result: Beat UCLA 20-14 in Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl
2012 Record: 2-8, 0-6 Big Ten
Blog Representation: The Champaign Room
Series with Purdue: Illinois leads 42-39-6
Last Purdue win: 21-14 at Purdue on 10/22/2011
Last Illinois win: 44-10 at Illinois on 10/30/2012
Time & TV: 3:30pm , Big Ten Network
Weather: 53 degrees and sunny, no rain
Odds: Purdue by 6
On October 8 last season Illinois moved to 6-0 and 2-0 in the Big Ten after winning 41-20 at Indiana. The offense had scored more than 30 points in five of six games and the Fighting Illini climbed to a surprising No. 16 in the national rankings.
Since that moment the Illini are a dismal 3-14, have lost 12 straight Big Ten games, fired a coach, and have scored more than 20 points in only four of those 17 games. Six times they have been held under 10 points and they were kept out of the end zone by Michigan and Minnesota this season. It has been an almost unheard of offensive collapse with FCS foe Charleston Southern being the only opponent in 17 games that has really struggled to stop anything the Illini have done.
Illinois Offense vs. Purdue Defense
I wish I could explain what has happened to the Illinois offense. Nathan Scheelhaase looked like he was going to be one of the Big Ten's better quarterbacks by this point in his career, but injuries and a serious regression have led to Tom Fornelli at The Champaign Room to call him shell-shocked. Two years ago he wasn't shell-shocked as he threw for 195 yards and four touchdowns in a 44-10 romp by Illinois in Champaign as a freshman. A similar effort Saturday would be shocking, as in eight games he has thrown for 1,110 yards and four touchdowns against six interceptions. His completion percentage hovers around 60% and Illinois is a paltry 36% on third downs.
Tom blames much of this on a bad offensive line that has given up 34 sacks to either Scheelhaase or Riley O'Toole. O'Toole has been better with 539 yards and six TDs in six games against three interceptions, but five of those scores came against Charleston Southern. Purdue should have a good day against the pass considering that half of the TD passes thrown by Illini quarterbacks this season came in the one game against CSU.
Kawann Short was named the defensive player of the week for his play against Iowa last week and he should be able to have another big game. Hugh Thornton at tackle and Graham Pocic at center arethe only upperclassmen that start along the line. Alex Hill and Michael Heitz are sophomores and Ted Karras is a freshman.
The running game has not helped much with Donovonn Young rushing for 429 yards and two scores. Scheelhaase is still mobile at 221 net yards and three scores, but he often is running for his life. Josh Ferguson will also carry the ball.
Ryan Lankford is the top receiving threat who strangely served as a punter last season as well. He has 35 catches for 471 yards and five scores. Young (34-145-1), Ferguson (24-204-0), and Darius Millines (23-231-0) along with Spencer Harris (20-251-2) round out the top receivers. As Tom said, Scheelhaase rarely gets past a look at Lankford because of his line.
This is a really, really bad offense. It rates 121st nationally out of 124 FBS teams in scoring, 102nd in passing, and 109th in passing. There is no excuse for Purdue give up more than 17 points barring multiple turnovers.
Illinois Defense vs. Purdue Offense
Robert Marve had a solid day last week in throwing for 266 yards and three touchdowns and should be in line for a similar game. Honestly, the Gary Nord offense of screens and draws all day might be enough to beat an offense this bad. Unfortunately for Illinois, Nord appears to be out again this week, so a semi-competent offensive coordinator (say a 12-year old with extensive Madden experience) will be calling the plays. We saw what happened last week in a similar situation.
The news did not get better for the Illinois when it was announced that one of its top defenders, Jonathan Brown, would miss a second week in a row due to injury. He is third on the team in tackles with 59, has 2.5 sacks, and a fumble recovery.
The run defense has given up 178.2 yards per game, so Akeem Shavers and Ralph Bolden need to keep pounding the ball as well as they did last week. Purdue showed that commitment to the running game can produce results last week as multiple drives were kept alive by hard runs from Shavers and Bolden.
The leading tackler is Mason Monheim, a freshman linebacker who is not even list as a starter on the depth chart. That is an older depth chart, however, so he has quietly had a very good first season in the Big Ten. Terry Hawthorne is still one of the Big Ten's better corners, but considering how porous much of the rest of the defense is he can only do so much. As a team Illinois only has six interceptions with two by Steve Hull. The team itself has committed 23 turnovers and collected only 16.
Look out for Ashante Williams, however, who has a 77-yard fumble-six and a 60-yard pick-six. He, as a defensive player, as scored two of Illinois' 21 team touchdowns.
The Illini have rotated kickers this season with Nick Immekus hitting 4 of 5 field goals with a long of 43 and Taylor Zalewski going 3 of 6 with a long of 46. The team is 18 for 18 on extra points with Zalewski hitting 12 of them. Since both Paul Griggs and Sam McCartney kicked field goals last week I expect both to be ready again. Griggs, of course, is coming off of nailing the game winner.
Justin DuVernois is a solid punter at almost 42 yards per kick, but he gets a lot of practice from an offense that has only produced 19 touchdowns.
Raheem Mostert could be available on kick returns for Purdue, giving us back a very potent weapon, but Akeem Hunt has still been solid. Tommy Davis handles punt returns for Illinois with about the same success rate (read: none) as Purdue. Hawthorne will handle their kick returns.
For all the bad Purdue has done this season it would be even worse for them to lose to this Illinois team. The offense has done little-to-nothing for over a season and a half now. It's best performance was scoring 22 points at Ohio State, but they were down 38-6 until late in the third quarter. Seven came from Woodyard's fumble return in the fourth quarter. During the 12-game losing streak in conference play the offense has been nothing short of awful.
Let's put it this way: when you can only score 17 points, at home, against Indiana's defense you know the offense is bad. The Hoosiers average giving up almost 250 yards on the ground but Illinois could only gain 196 yards on the ground.
As bad as things have been for Purdue it really only got shelled early against Minnesota. Against Michigan, Wisconsin, and Penn State the defense held strong for at least a quarter and a half before falling apart due to exhaustion since the Nordfense couldn't stay on the field. We now have a chance to turn the tables.
Tom stated that the pass defense is the weakness for Illinois, but the run defense has hardly been a wall in giving up 24 scores on the road.
Really, Purdue should be able to put up a few score early and feel comfortable. I know it is only Tim Beckman's first year, but he's done nothing to stop the offensive decline for the Illini. This should be our offense's best day since Marshall and the defense shouldn't have a problem slowing Illinois down.
Get an early seat at the Beef House if:
- Robert Marve throws for 300 yards.
- Purdue rushes for 200 yards as a team.
- Purdue doesn't turn the ball over.
- Purdue gets its first interception since the Ohio State game.
- Ricardo Allen gets pick-six No. 5.
Check the Beef House's liquor supply if:
- Illinois scores more than 20 points.
- Purdue has multiple turnovers again.
- Scheelhaase plays like the Scheelhaase of two years ago.
- The Nordfense returns.
- The QB rotation returns.