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Purdue at Illinois Preview

Purdue tries to keep the Cannon and even the all-time series with the Illini.

NCAA Football: Illinois at Rutgers Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

The only Big Ten team that Purdue has an active multi-game winning streak against is Illinois. Two years ago J.D. Dellinger’s field goal in overtime gave Darrell Hazell his final win. Last season Purdue won a rather dull affair where it was in control throughout, but didn’t exactly blow them out. The most memorable part of the game was the season-ending injury to David Blough. If anything, it paved the way for the strong finish to the year by Elijah Sindelar.

This year’s game won’t decide a playoff berth, but it has huge bowl implications for both teams. Illinois has been respectable coming in and after taking care of its business last week against Rutgers they can be two wins from bowl eligibility with a win here. Since Maryland, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Northwestern are still on their schedule that would give them a real shot.

For Purdue, we almost certainly need this win to have a bowl shot. The three close losses, especially the Eastern Michigan one, are looking costly right now. There probably is not a path to a bowl game if we drop this one. As it stands, we still likely need this game, Indiana, and Minnesota plus a home win over Iowa to get there. That would give Purdue four true roads wins in a single season for the first time in 75 years.

With Purdue’s improved play I think we can stay with any team left except probably Ohio State. We absolutely could upset Michigan State and I think we even have a shot at Wisconsin since it is at home, but we’re backed into a bit of a corner. The 1-3 home mark means we need to do work on the road, and that continues this week at Illinois.

2018 Record: 3-2, 1-1 Big Ten West

2017 Record: 2-10, 0-9 Big Ten West

Bowl Result: None

Blog Representation: The Champaign Room

Series with Purdue: Illinois leads 44-43-6

Last Purdue win: 29-10 at Purdue on 11/4/2017

Last Illinois win: 48-14 at Purdue on 11/7/2015

Head Coach: Lovie Smith (8-21 in 3rd season at Illinois)

The Illini haven’t been that bad this year, which is a compliment. They have wins over three very weak teams in Kent State, Western Illinois, and Rutgers. They took care of business against the teams they were supposed to beat, which is more than we can say. They have performed admirably in the games against tougher opponents, too. Against South Florida, a team currently ranked 23rd at 5-0, they held a 19-7 lead entering the fourth quarter before the Bulls scored 18 unanswered points. A 50-yard TD pass to Darnell Salomon with 2:24 left gave USF a 25-19 win.

The other game was against a really good Penn State team. Five minutes into the second half Ricky Smalling scored on a 17 yard TD pass to give the Illini a 24-21 lead. The Nittany Lions then unleashed holy hell and scored 42 points in the final 25 minutes. given that any time they have faced a good team they have been blitzed in the fourth quarter that should be a good sign.

So yeah, this won’t be as easy as we think. This is an Illinois team that is gaining experience and playing tougher than expected. They can run the ball pretty well and the defense has had some pretty good moments so far.

Who to Watch on Offense

A.J. Bush Jr. – QB – Bush started at quarterback against Rutgers after M.J. Rivers II had started the previous three games. He was not great throwing the ball (10 of 18 for 89 yards and a TD), but he had 116 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. He has 312 yards passing and 258 rushing so far, making him a true dual threat QB. Overall the Illinois passing game is not good. It is 123rd nationally at only 751 yards. Behind them are only the five option teams (Georgia Southern, Georgia Tech, and the service academies), Maryland, and UNLV.

Reggie Corbin – RB – Corbin has been very good so far, and considering Purdue has given up a ton of yards to good running backs we should be concerned. Corbin has 464 yards and five touchdowns. As bad as Illinois is at passing the ball they are 23rd nationally in rushing at 1,304 yards and 11 TDs as a team. They are going to be one of the more one-dimensional teams we face.

Mike Epstein – RB – Epstein has been a very good compliment to Corbin so far. He has 387 yards and three touchdowns. Last week he had 63 yards and a score while Corbin had 137 yards and a score. Between Corbin, Bush, and Epstein the Illinois running game can be lethal if it gets going.

Ricky Smalling – WR – Illinois has only five receiving touchdowns this year. Smalling has three of them on 11 receptions for 150 yards. Illinois isn’t going to throw much, but the 6’1” sophomore is a definite target when they do decide to throw.

Who to Watch on Defense

Del’Shawn Phillips – LB – The 6’2”, 230 pound senior has been solid at linebacker so far. He leads the team with 39 total tackles and 2.5 for loss. He also has three interceptions so far, among the most in the Big Ten.

Bobby Roundtree – DL – Roundtree is having a great season on the defensive line. He has three sacks and is third on the team at 29 tackles. He also gets his hands up with five pass breakups, among the national leaders in that category.

Jake Hansen – LB – Hansen has also been a very good compliment to Phillips. He has a team high six tackles for loss and 38 total tackles on the year. Both he and Phillips are among the conference leaders in tackles.

Who to Watch on Special Teams

Chase McLaughlin – K – McLaughlin has been a solid kicker for years in Champaign. He is 9 of 13 on field goals with a long of 54 yards. We do know he is susceptible to the rare triple-icing, however.

Blake Hayes – P – Hayes is second in the Big Ten in punting with an excellent 45.6 yard average.

Game Outlook

As I said above, Purdue needs to win this game. We know what the Illinois are going to do. They are going to run the ball and mix in misdirection. That’s what we struggled with against Nebraska. Devine Ozigbo and Adrian Martinez combined to run for over 260 yards against us. Bush and Corbin can put up similar numbers. They just cannot pass as well.

The good news is that the Illinois defense is not great. It is 12th in the Big Ten at 28.6 points per game and dead last in terms of yards given up at 483.4 per game. They are giving up almost 200 yards per game on the ground and the pass defense is giving up 289.4 yards per game. That is 13th in the conference. Purdue is second in passing offense at 320.2 yards per game, so we should be able to move the ball fairly well.

That’s what this game comes down to. Can David Blough stay hot? As a team Purdue has thrown just one interception since the three it threw in the first half against Northwestern. As long as he stays accurate Blough should have a field day and another 300+ yard day. There will be enough room to run, too.

I expect Illinois to be able to score. Our run defense has not been great, but we have the better, more complete offense. This could be a lot like the Nebraska game where Purdue scores, then gives up a score only to answer. Our own defense is only slightly better, but our offense is significantly better. That should be the difference.