A game against an FCS team should never be a crossroads game, but here we are. For the second straight season Purdue played better than it had any right to play against a good Notre Dame team, but as we saw last year, it meant nothing. We proceeded to get blown out most of the rest of the season and even had a stretch of three consecutive games where we failed to reach the red zone and scored a total of seven points.
Saturday against Southern Illinois we need to see improvement. Not only is it a great chance to double our win total from last year, it is an opponent that should be physically over-matched. They aren't your average FCS team, however. Last year's FCS opponent was one of the worst in the nation and Purdue needed everything in the bag to beat them. This year we have a good team. Southern Illinois is ranked 16th in the FCS poll and is already a solid 3-0 averaging more than 44 points per game. Their quarterback was the National FCS Player of the Week last week and they have multiple running backs with FBS playing experience.
I still say that no major conference FBS team ever has a valid reason for losing to an FCS team, but if bad Purdue shows up Southern Illinois is more than good enough to beat us.
Who to Watch on Offense:
Mark Iannotti - Quarterback - Iannotti is in his first year as a starter and was on the roster two seasons ago when Purdue played Eastern Michigan. After stepping down a division he has started the seasons well. He already has 10 TD passes against three interceptions and 639 yards while completing almost 72% of his passes. Last week against Southeast Missouri State he threw six TD passes and has spread the ball around to 13 different receivers. So far he has been an extremely efficient quarterback, but is not much of a threat to run. SIU's line has kept him clean too, as he has only been sacked twice.
Malcolm Agnew - Running Back - Agnew is one of the best running backs at the FCS level. He is currently fourth nationally with 450 yards and is a transfer Oregon State, where he ran for 692 yards and six scores in two seasons. The senior already has six touchdowns in 2014. He also is dangerous out of the backfield with four receptions for 133 yards and two more scores. Priority No. 1 should be stopping Agnew.
Mika'il McCall - Running Back - The prodigal son of AIRBHG returns. After transferring from Iowa and even getting kicked off of Southern Illinois last season McCall has returned and has 170 yards and a touchdown in 2014.
MyCole Pruitt - Tight End - Pruitt has 16 catches for 170 yards and three touchdowns as Iannotti's top receiver. At 6'3" 255 pounds he is a load to bring down and should be a nightmare over the middle, especially on third and long.
Tay Willis - Wide Receiver - Willis is small at only 5'8", but is a fast receiver with 11 catches for 152 yards and a score. SIU will line him up all over the field even as a running back and a kick returner.
Who to Watch on Defense:
Lamonte Edwards - Linebacker - We have seen him before, as Edwards has played in 23 games in his career for Minnesota before transferring to SIU before the 2013 season. He has 11 tackles and a pair of sacks.
Tyler Williamson - Linebacker - Williamson has played out of his mind so far. He has 23 tackles and three sacks as a solid outside linebacker.he has also forced and recovered a fumble while breaking up two passes.
Chase Allen - Linebacker - The third linebacker is another very active player with 20 tackles and a sack.
Raysean Golden - Nose Tackle - Golden had a huge game with 10 tackles and 1.5 sacks against Eastern Illinois, which is a ridiculous total for a nose tackle.
Who to Watch on Special Teams:
Thomas Kinney - Kicker - He is only 2 of 4 on field goals this season, but has hit form 50 yards, so he has range. He is not getting the ball into the end zone, however, on kickoffs, so it could mean more of a game from Raheem Mostert and Akeem Hunt.
LaSteven McKinney - Punt Returner - McKinney is also used as a receiver, but he has been an excellent punt returner to this point with 18.6 yards per return on six returns. This is in addition to 10 catches for 107 yards and two scores.
I will go ahead and say it: This is a better offense than Western Michigan and Central Michigan. That alone should scare us given the defensive struggles in the first two weeks. Unless the defense is flying around and making plays like it did during a portion of the first half against Notre Dame we're in serious trouble. This is a team with multiple weapons, FBS level talent, and it is capable of making plays. Agnew could be the best running back we have faced to date.
Purdue must be able to slow down Agnew because FCS teams beat FBS teams by holding onto the football, getting yards on the ground, and moving the clock. Agnew is the type of back that can hurt you in a lot of ways. Given the poor defensive efforts against Jarvion Franklin at Western Michigan and Thomas Rawls for Central Michigan, Agnew could be in for a HUGE day.
It is not like Iannotti is a terrible, caretaker of a quarterback that just hands off to Agnew. He is dangerous in his own right and has a big tight end to throw to for the inevitable 3rd and 8 at midfield that is converted for 15 yards to keep a critical drive alive. Purdue got some good pressure on Everett Golson, but it will have to get the same on Iannotti. He is capable of carving us up with ease.
Now, let's all take a deep breath.
This is still an FCS team. The quality of athlete on the lines is just not the same and the depth is not there. Purdue should be the team that stays stronger longer and is capable of wearing them down. If not, we have some serious issues as a program starting at the top and especially with strength and conditioning. Simply by being in the Big Ten we have better facilities and the ability to wear teams like this down.
Also, let's look at who SIU has played. They beat Taylor University 45-0. Taylor is an NAIA school that is normally playing the likes of Marian and St. Francis. The win over Eastern Illinois was impressive, as EIU made the FCS semifinals last season. Southeast Missouri State was 3-9 last season and while they very nearly beat Kansas a few weeks ago, it's Kansas. Coached by Charlie Weis. I mean, seriously?
Purdue has to come out and play like a Big Ten facing an FCS team. Even Illinois beat them last year. Sure, they needed a goal line stand at the end, but they beat them. We absolutely should be the better team on Saturday and this game was scheduled specifically as a win. Lose it, and the entire Hazell era takes a huge step back (as if it can take further steps back).
Keys to the Game:
- Stop Agnew.
- No, seriously: stop Agnew. Don't act like it is a surprise he is getting the ball.
- Be aware of Pruitt over the middle, especially on third down and long.
- Get pressure on Iannotti.
- Act like a damn Big Ten team on offense and assert your will.
- Once again, for good measure, STOP AGNEW.