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Purdue 38, Illinois 27: The Cannon Comes Home

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Purdue actually wins a conference game!

Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

It has been a rough week around here, but today things felt a lot better. Let's just look at some of the significance of today:

  • 1st Big Ten win for coach Hazell
  • It ended a 9-game losing streak in Big Ten play
  • It prevented Purdue from going 0-3 in trophy games in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1990-91.
  • Purdue had a 100-yard receiver and a 100-yard rusher, which almost never happens at the same time.
  • Akeem Hunt had his third career 100-yard rushing day and a new career high.
  • Purdue ran for 359 yards total, which was nearly half of what Purdue had all of last season (8-5 yards).
  • Austin Appleby got a victory in his first career start, while throwing for a score and 200+ yards and rushing for two more scores.
  • Coming into today Purdue only had two plays all season of 40+ yards. Today they had five.
  • Let me re-iterate: PURDUE WON A BIG TEN GAME!

Now, before we get too excited, it was Illinois. The Illini are on a near historic run of futility in the Big Ten, having lost 23 of their last 24 Big Ten games. Their defense is awful, but Purdue, for once, was able to actually take advantage of a team's major weakness and totally exploit it.

That in itself is a sign of improvement. Last season the Illinois and Indiana defenses were awful, but Purdue managed a meager 14 points against the Illini and against Indiana they didn't do anything until the game was long over. Today, Purdue saw a weakness, the run defense, and exploited it. They forced Illinois to stop the run by running 45 times. Illinois was completely unable to do so.

Positives:

Austin Appleby - Could a B1G Player of the Week award be in the offing for Appleby? He had 202 yards passing with a TD, a 75% completion percentage, and no picks. He also had two rushing TDs, 76 yards on the ground, and he even caught a pass, nearly for a touchdown. When you're throwing passes to yourself you know it is a good day.

Akeem Hunt - At halftime it looked like he could be in line for a record day. Instead, it was merely a career day. It is amazing what a back like Hunt can do when he is given space to run. Credit to the offensive line, as well as the Illinois defense, for being so generous.

Ryan Russell - Russell has himself a game today. He only had three tackles, but he was utterly disruptive and all three tackles for loss. This is the Ryan Russell we could use the rest of the season.

Frankie Williams - 12 tackles, a sack, a fumble recovery, and 1.5 tackles for loss. People need to put Frankie on the all-Big Ten team at the end of the season because he is playing like a man possessed. At the very least he is a pleasant surprise that will hopefully get his named called in the NFL Draft in April. He is probably the biggest surprise of the first half of the season.

Danny Anthrop - Anthrop has now caught every touchdown pass thrown by Appleby in his career. Anthrop had a very nice stiff-arm to keep his long TD alive and a couple of his catches were difficult ones in traffic. Just a good day for him

The Offensive line - I have to give the Big Uglies some love. Appleby wasn't sacked in his first start and they blocked for over 350 yards. In my mind, that is pretty much a perfect day for the O-line. Last year I lambasted them a lot, but I have to give credit where it was due.

Tim Cason - The true freshman had his redshirt burned as he saw his first career action and got a tackle. I have to assume he has played well in practice to burn a redshirt this late. Welcome to the game, son.

Negatives:

Third and Long on defense - When Riley O-Toole stands on the sidelines in the cold and wind for three hours, then immediately comes in to convert a 3rd and 21, you know you cannot defend third and long. At this point we need a support group. I honestly have PTSD and expect a third down longer than five yards to be converted no matter what.

Covering Mike Dudek - He had 200 yards worth of receptions and Wes Lunt was throwing deep to him every time he launched one. We acted surprised he was an eligible receiver.

Final Analysis:

By their own admission, Illinois is pretty much a tire fire and a rock bottom right now.  We still couldn't beat a team event that bad last season (or earlier this season, for that matter). Purdue hits the half-way mark at 3-3, which is something we would have viewed as progress earlier. Yes, with a mistake-filled game with Central Michigan and an offensively-challenged game against Iowa are frustrating, but this Purdue team has clearly made progress. We now have the three hardest opponents on the schedule in the next four games. A win against Michigan State, Wisconsin, or Nebraska would be absolutely shocking, but look to Minnesota, Northwestern, and Indiana as games that maybe, just maybe, something can happen.

A bowl game is still a pipe dream, but at least Purdue went out and won as a double-digit underdog on the road. Sure, it was against an opponent that was absolutely terrible, but we're in no room to pick nits. I am just happy that we have a Big Ten win when most people said we wouldn't get even one and there is a trophy in the trophy case.

Bring on Sparty.

UPDATE: I would be remiss if I did not mentioned the play of the day. With Purdue leading 17-14 on the first drive of the second half for Illinois the Illini got inside the 20 thanks to a flea-flicker from Lunt to Dudek. Two plays later Lunt passed to Ferguson, which fell incomplete. Purdue fell on the ball, and after review it was ruled a backwards pass and therefore a fumble. two plays after that was the 80-yard TD from Appleby to Anthrop.

Basically, this was a 10-point shift in an 11 point game. Heads up to Purdue for falling on the ball as a clear recovery and for the replay getting it right.