This was one of those games that was so ugly it was almost beautiful. In fact, for Purdue fans, it was beautiful. Forget our coaching and administrative issues for a moment. Let’s feel good for the players on the team. A week ago they looked awful. Today, they overcame mistakes and penalties, survived a last second field goal attempt, and got a hard earned win. You have to feel for these guys working hard every week. After today, Purdue is a really, really banged up team. They are hurt physically. Seeing them sprint across the field to get the Cannon after J.D. Dellinger’s kick went through the uprights was cathartic. I felt great for those kids because they deserved this.
And we here at Hammer & Rails are happy to deliver a mea culpa. None of us believed this was going to happen today. I barely wanted to drive over to Champaign from Indianapolis, and when Purdue came out of the locker room very flat I was worried. When Reggie Corbin broke off a 46 yard run on the third play from scrimmage from Illinois I thought we were screwed. Fortunately, Illinois was up to the task of giving this one away.
And make no mistake, both teams tried as hard as they could to give the game away on several occasions. Let’s look at them:
· Illinois had 2nd and goal at the one after that Corbin run. Kendrick Foster was stuffed twice, then the Fighting Illini inexplicably decided to kick a field goal. They were afraid to go for a yard at home against a team that gave up 400 yards on the ground last week. The field goal was good, but Illinois left 4 points on the field and, as we saw, it was a factor. It was also not the only time today Lovie Smith was afraid to get a yard at home.
· Purdue knocked Wes Lunt out of the game early, but that proved to be beneficial for the Illini because Chayce Crouch played himself a ballgame. Purdue could never adjust to him as he ran the read option extremely well and even had some critical completions.
· Danny Ezechukwu had a critical roughing the passer penalty that kept the Illini drive alive for their first TD. Otherwise, Illinois has to punt from its own 40.
· Purdue came out of halftime with a 21-16 lead, but missed on two critical opportunities to make it a two-possession game. On the first, Richie Worship was stuffed just short on 4th and 1 inside Illinois territory. On the second, DeAngelo Yancey had a first down, but it was ruled (correctly) on review that he had his knee down when he made the catch and Purdue was short in Illinois territory. If Purdue scores on either, or both of those drives, it might win going away.
· Illinois committed a large variety of penalties. 12 for 125 yards, in fact. Their 3rd down defense was Purdue-esque even with the Boilers converting 9 of 16. The most impressive conversion was Malik Kimbrough getting his first offensive touch on a screen and taking it 45 yards on a pass from David Blough on 3rd and 10 for a TD that made it 21-13 as the Boilers answered Illinois’ first touchdown.
· Eddy Wilson collected 30 yards worth of penalties on one play by roughing the passer AND kicking his helmet off afterward. That proved critical on the Illinois TD drive that put them up 31-24 and was a really dirty play. Wilson deserves a suspension for it.
· Just as it looked like Illinois had taken full control of the ballgame with a 31-24 lead Purdue actually marched down the field with a power run game. Brian Lankford-Johnson was great, and Richie Worship was a punishing runner. Purdue had runs of 7, 17, 15, 9, and 8 with a 13-yard pass to Cameron Posey as it needed 6 plays to tie it.
· That was with 9:55 left. We looked to be in a shootout to the end, but then both teams played some defense. We got three punts in a row (one helped by an Illinois penalty setting up 3rd and 17) and Purdue got the ball back with 1:21 left. Purdue got to midfield, but a Blough pass was tipped and intercepted by Hardy Nickerson. The Illini suddenly had the ball at midfield.
· It looked like a winning field goal was pre-ordained. Illinois drove to the Purdue 23 and Chase McLaughlin lined up for a 41-yard field goal. He was perfect on the season and had hit from 47 earlier in the day. Off his foot from my perspective in the south end zone it looked good, but it kept pushing right and just barely missed, keeping Purdue alive.
· From the Purdue 10 Crouch fumbled in overtime. He had been killing Purdue on the ground and fumbled at the worst time.
· Given the last giveaway, Purdue played smart. It pounded Worship, set up Dellinger in the middle of the field, and the freshman nailed it. Dellinger had struggled coming into today, going 2 for 5 in his debut, but today he was 2 for 2 and now has a game-winner to his credit.
Honestly, I was stunned. I thought this team was toast today. I thought the fearsome Illinois front line would dominate Purdue’s offensive line and disrupt the offense. I thought the banged up defense would struggle. Instead, Purdue actually responded. Credit goes to Terry Malone for calling an excellent game as offensive coordinator. He kept Illinois off balance and it didn’t matter that Markell Jones was out. He had Lankford-Johnson and Worship running hard and Blough had two picks, but one was an inconsequential Hail Mary and the other was a tipped pass.
Defensively, Purdue could not stop the run at all, but Illinois still tried to pass and was kind enough to not run twice on 4th and 1. The Boilers adjusted just enough to get some key stops too.
This past week was probably the most negative I have ever been about Purdue football. It was an ugly week. Even thought it was against Illinois Purdue responded and actually won a football game.
For a moment, at least, let’s just enjoy it before we re-sharpen the pitchforks and relight the torches.