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Know thy Opponent 2010 Western Illinois Leathernecks

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While there is obviously some doubt as to whether we will win the opener at Notre Dame or not, there will likely be very little concern  as to the result of our September 11th home opener. I am already going to make a bold statement about our game against the Leathernecks: If we lose to Western Illinois it will be the worst loss in the history of Purdue football and Danny Hope should be fired on the spot.

I don't say this because Western Illinois is a 1-AA team. I say it because they are one of the worst 1-AA teams in the country. This is a game that shouldn't be close. I already know that I will likely have to work at 4:30 in Indianapolis covering a high school game at Lucas Oil Stadium that day. I expect the game to be well in hand so I can potentially leave early for said game. I'll also have more of an eye on that night's contest between Miami and Ohio State as the Hurricanes go for revenge against the Buckeyes. As for this one, I don't think they will be within five touchdowns of us by the end.

2009 Record: 1-10 (0-8 Missouri Valley Conference)

Bowl Result: None

Blog Representation: None

Series with Purdue: First Meeting

It is always good when we only have to worry about one single player, Kyle Glazier, and the fact he would have to set personal NCAA records to beat us.

Last Season for the Leathernecks

This should be the only thing we need to know about how bad Western Illinois is: They lost to Indiana State last season.

And we're supposed to fear this team?

The Sycamores have historically been one of the worst teams in Division 1-AA, if not THE worst of the past five years. The Sycamores' only win last year was a 17-14 victory over the leathernecks in late October, which broke a 33 game losing streak for ISU. The lone win before that 33 game losing streak was preceded by a 24 game losing streak. Basically, the Leathernecks lost to a team that was 1 of its last 58.

It is not like this was a surprise opponent, either. ISU is a conference opponent they play every season. As a result, the Leathernecks will come into 2010 having lost ten straight. Their lone victory came in last season's opener at Sam Houston State 35-28. That would be the high point in a season that saw them only score 35 points in their final five games. Their one game against a 1-A team was a 41-7 thrashing at the hands of Northern Illinois.

The Leathernecks haven't always been this bad. They hovered around .500 from 2004-2008, while 2003 was a fantastic 9-4 season. They reached the 1-AA playoffs that year and even defeated perennial power Montana in the first round before dropping a heartbreaker to Colgate 28-27. That was also the last time they defeated a 1-A team, as they pounded Eastern Michigan 34-12. The next season wasn't as good, but it should be noted they had a ridiculous 98-7 win over some school named Cheyney in which they lead 42-0 at the end of the first quarter.

We cannot take this team too lightly, however. Even though we should win by a lot, they do have a history of scaring larger opponents. Arkansas was lucky to escape with a 28-24 win in 2008 on a touchdown with less than two minutes to go, while Illinois had a lackluster 21-0 victory in 2007.

Western Illinois Offense

As is typical for a team that only won a single game, Western Illinois did not have a potent offense a year ago. The Leathernecks topped 20 points only three times and were held to single digits five times. As a whole, the offense did not generate more than 3,000 yards total even against 1-AA competition. This should be an excellent game for Albert Evans and our rebuilt secondary to get some reps as Western Illinois only threw for 1,912 yards on 307 pass attempts.

It remains to be seen who will be at quarterback for the Leathernecks. Will Lunt (who is from Rochester, IL like our own Sean Robinson) passed for 997 and four touchdowns against 12 interceptions as a freshman last season. Matt Barr could also get the call, as he split duties almost evenly with Lunt in his junior season. Barr was 59 of 106 for 915 yards and five scores against three picks. That came in the season's first four games, as he suffered a season-ending injury against Southern Illinois. That tells me Barr will likely be the starter against Purdue. He has been the starter since 2007, but we still might see Lunt some.

The Western Illinois running game is expected to struggle after losing Dre Gibbs to graduation. Gibbs was basically their one offensive threat, rushing for 1,106 yards and six touchdowns a season ago. That leaves sophomore Marva Carley as the top returning rusher at only 78 yards and one score.

The Leathernecks do have a pair of dangerous receivers who have already received preseason honorable mention honors as Division 1-AA All-Americans. Lito Senatus caught 65 passes for 819 yards and five touchdowns. His receptions total is the single-season Western Illinois record. At 6'3 and 200 pounds he could be a handful for our rebuilt secondary. Todd Speight only had five catches for 15 yards a year ago, but he is a dangerous return man who might be more involved in the offense now.  He earned honorable mention All-America honors after averaging 11.2 yards per punt return. He returned both a punt and a kickoff for a score against Stephen F. Austin.

In realtiy, these are about the only two players we have to fear from the Leatherneck offense. Ryan Kerrigan, Gerald Gooden, Kawaan Short, and the rest of our offensive line should have a field day against the Western Illinois offensive line. The Leathernecks gave up 46 quarterback sacks last year. That is why this game should be different from the Indiana State game n 2006. In that game, ISU utilized the chop block to keep Anthony Spencer and Co. away from the quarterback. In this game, we should have at least four sacks unless we're not trying.

Western Illinois Defense

From what I have learned about the Leathernecks it seems that their struggles last season were based on the injury to Matt Barr. It seems like they would have had a much better season with Barr. They had a few games where the defense did a good job of keeping a team under 20, only to have the offense not execute enough for a win. Honestly, if we're in a situation where their offense doesn't do enough for a win we're in trouble, but that is only me being truthful again.

WIU has one solid defensive player in linebacker Kyle Glazier. He was in the top 10 nationally last year with over 10 tackles per game. That has earned him preseason honorable mention All-American honors in Division 1-AA. He managed 120 tackles with a pair of interceptions and a fumble recovery last year. His game against Purdue will likely be an NFL Draft audition, considering it is the best competition he will face.

Fellow linebacker Brandon Kreczmer led the team as a junior with seven sacks while blitzing form his outside linebacker position. He is effective at getting to the ball-carrier with 88 tackles overall. Unfortunately, that is where the WIU highlights end on defense. Glazier was the only player with multiple interceptions in 2009, and by multiple I mean two. Kreczmer and Victor Visocky had a pair of fumble recoveries each, but this was all against 1-AA competition. Even though we were 5-7 a year ago this is a significant step up in weight class.

Western Illinois Special teams

We know that we need to look out for Speight. The guy is a danger any time he touché the football on kicks. Consider that I expect to kick off at least seven times in this game because we are going to score a lot, I expect Speight to have several looks at us. Keeping him in check will be good Special Teams practice for the real portion of our schedule.

This should be an excellent chance for a shutout because Brian Egan is not a great kicker. He was only 2 of 8 a year ago, meaning each Western Illinois possession will be all or nothing. The chances of a cheap field goal from 45 yards to break a shutout are small. Egan did hit from 43 yards against Stephen F. Austin, but he struggled the rest of the year.

Western Illinois was good against punt returns, giving up just 6 yards per kick. Chris Fuchs had a 38 average per kick, but we haven't returns punts well with regularity anyway (see our Northern Illinois game) so what does it matter? Fuchs is mostly a baseball player who happens to be a good punter.

Intangibles

The intangibles need to be summed up in one phrase: we're a D-1A team facing a D-1AA team. With the natural advantages that spring from 1-A against 1-AA team we should win regardless. I am a firm advocate that no D-1A team should ever lose to a 1-AA team because of these advantages. Maybe if it was a MAC team facing a very good 1-AA team I'd feel better about thinking of an upset, but this is Big Ten versus the worst team in 1-AA a year ago. If our rebuilt defense cannot stop Western Illinois we have no business competing in the Big Ten and you can forget about playing in a bowl game.  Put it in Sharpie, this is a large Purdue win.

Prediction

Anyone who is not currently redshirting gets to play. The 2006 team was a special team that made the active decision it wanted to have a competitive non-conference season outside of Notre Dame. I don't think this happens against WIU because coach Hope is a D-1AA coach. He knows their weaknesses, allowing us to pick our score. If this is close (within 3 touchowns) at halftime I will be stunned.  Purdue 52, Western Illinois 7