In the midst of one of the roughest seasons on record we can rest in knowing that things aren't as bad as they have been at Illinois. They too are waiting for their first Big Ten win under their new coach, only he was hired last year and is 0-for-14 in league play. In preparation for the Big Ten Game of the Year I spoke with Brandon Birkhead of SB Nation's The Champaign Room. My answers to his questions went live this morning, while this is what he had to say:
T-Mill: It's the Big Ten Game of the Year! Purdue might be the worst Big Ten team ever and Illinois has lost more consecutive B1G games than anyone in over 30 years. Someone HAS to win, right?
Brandon: Most likely, but there exist scenarios in which the game would not finish. A meteor could stike the stadium. The Rapture could begin. The Dark Knight football scene could happen. We could all teleport into another dimension ruled by ruthless Care Bears. The possibility does exist.
T-Mill: It looked like Illinois turned a corner when it beat a good Cincinnati team and challenged Washington. What happened?
Brandon: People caught up to Bill Cubit's offense. After teams were able to study more tape, and pick up the tendencies of his play calls, they are having much more success defensively against the Illini. Furthermore, the Illini's biggest issue on defense is against the run, and the Big Ten is full of teams that can run the ball very effectively. It's tougher to win conference games.
T-Mill: Against Ohio State you had some internal discord that led to some sideline shoving. What's the story with that?
Brandon: It's really being overblown. Beckman didn't like a call Cubit made and it got a little heated in the emotion of the moment. There was no shoving. It's a non-issue. It's another case of people trying to treat everything Tim Beckman does as some example of him being a completely incompetent football coach.
T-Mill: Purdue's offense is one of the worst FBS offenses in recent memory. Can it move the ball against the Illinois defense?
Brandon: Yes. Miami of Ohio's offense is worst than Purdue's and they managed to move the ball a little. The Illini are not very talented on defense. The defensive line is awful to put it nicely. They are very undersized and cannot get off blocks. The secondary is very young and inconsistent to boot. All Purdue will have to do is run some power and zone runs, and call some play action passes and they will find success.
T-Mill: I always believed in Nathan Scheelhaase, but man, has he struggled. How far has he fallen from his promise as a freshman?
Brandon: Uh, have you seen Scheelhaase play this season? He is having a remarkable year. 65% completion, 2,708 yards, 17 TDs and 10 INTs, with 4 rushing TDs to boot. Those are good numbers, by far the best of his career, and he still has two games to play.
Nate will never get his full due. He has a good chance of ending his career as the Illini's All Time Total Yards leader, but because the team did not have much success around him, no one cares. He has really had a solid career, with his Junior year being his only really "bad" year, but he had nothing to work with that season.
Scheelhaase is criminally underrated by his own fanbase. It's a damn shame.
T-Mill: Let's not forget this is a Rivalry game too! Do you remember what the Cannon looks like?
Brandon: I know of the Cannon, but they never actually have the players carry it around after a win. I don't get why. When we play Northwestern for the Land of Lincoln Trophy (better known as the LOLhat), the players get to carry it around. It should be the same with the cannon. It could actually make the players care more about the rivalry.
T-Mill: Is there a prediction that won't leave casual viewers with eyeballs gushing blood?
Brandon: I don't know about that, but I think the Illini offense will have a big day against Purdue. Illinois 45 Purdue 20. Tim Beckman pops the champaign.