Illinois and Purdue are essentially the same team. Both are young, coming off big seasons, and figuring out how to replace several key losses to the roster and coaching staff in 2023. Neither are off to a stellar start. Purdue, playing both stupid football and a stupid schedule, is sitting at 1-3. Illinois managed to schedule Toledo and Florida Atlantic, and despite barely making it past both teams, are 2-2
Their offense, like Purdue’s, is still trying to find traction after losing quarterback Tommy Devito and running back Chase Brown off the 2022 squad. Those two were the heart and soul of the offense, and they haven’t come close to replacing them this season. Ole' Miss transfer quarterback Luke Altmyer is talented, but like Hudson Card, has been hit with the turnover bug. In the backfield, Reggie Love III and Josh McCray are doing their best to replace Brown, but have a combined 2 touchdowns in 4 games.
Unlike last season where they battered opponents with Devito and Chase Brown out of the backfield, both as a runner and receiver, this Illinois offense is more balanced. Last season they leaned heavily on their veteran backfield, this season they’re spreading the rock around more. They’re averaging 33 runs and 33 passes so far this season, and doing most of their work out of a spread offense.
Most Common Personnel Grouping: 11 (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WRs)
Players to Watch
Blue Circle - #9 - Luke Altmyer - Quarterback
Former 4* quarterback Altmyer signed with Ole’ Miss out high school (a bold move for someone from Starkville) but failed to notice Lane Kiffin bringing in every transfer portal he could find. After two seasons of bench sitting, Altmyer made the move to Illinois to replace Tommy Devito.
The good news, if you’re a Boilermaker fan, is he hasn’t run much in the last two game. The bad news is that he ran for 69 yards against Toledo and 70 yards against Kansas in the first two games. He’s considered a plus athlete but would prefer to throw the ball instead of running it. At the same time, if Purdue offers him a giant rush lane, he’s capable of going it alone on the ground. Purdue’s best bet is to make him work from the pocket, but that’s been asking too much the last few weeks.
He was awful against Penn State, throwing 4 picks and 0 touchdowns, but had a bounce back game last week against a bad FAU team, putting up 300 yards and a touchdown. In terms of physical ability, he doesn’t have the strongest arm. His deep throws tend to flutter and he’s not a guy that’s going to drill the ball into tight windows. What he does do well, in theory, is distribute the ball quickly to his skill players. When he’s playing well, the ball doesn’t stick in his hands. He struggles when he has to sit in the pocket and wait on deep developing routes. Purdue has done a better job of stopping the quick passing game recently (couldn’t be much worse than how they played it in the opener) and will need to continue to tighten up the coverage on short and intermediate routes.
Overall, Altmyer is a bit like Hudson Card minus some arm strength. He came into Ole’ Miss with a 4* reputation, couldn’t find any traction, and is now trying to make his way in the Big 10. He’s good enough to beat Purdue, but he’ll need to avoid the turnovers that plagued him against Penn State, and play more like he did against FAU.
To be fair to Luke, Purdue and Penn State offer very different challenges, and the Boilermakers are probably closer to the Owl than the Nittany Lions in terms of defensive talent.
Red Circle - #89 - Tip Reiman - Tight End
Reiman may seem like a strange choice for a “player to watch”. He only has 7 receptions on the year, but has 102 receiving yards (an average of 15 YPC) and a touchdown. More importantly, he’s the “move” player in the Illinois offense. They use Reiman all over the formation. In the above picture he’s split out like a slot receiver at 6’5”, 230.
As we know, Purdue lives and dies in man coverage. On one play Reiman will line up in the backfield like a Fullback, on the next, he’ll flex out like a receiver. They also like to hide him in the backfield and leak him out late, either into the flat or on a wheel route. Purdue needs to make sure they don’t assume he’s blocking, even when it looks like he’s blocking. Illinois waits for the defense to get complacent and then utilize Reiman once the defense sells out on the pass rush.
Both teams struggle to sustain and cash in on long drives, Purdue can’t let Reiman leak out of the backfield for an easy touchdown.
Green Circle - #1 - Isaiah Williams - Wide Receiver
I hate to do this to y’all. You’ve been so good to me over the years, but Williams is Illinois' best receiver, and he happens to be the type of receiver Purdue has struggled with this season. The former 4* talent out of St. Louis had offers from all the major players in college football to play slot receiver and return kicks coming out of high school. He surprised everyone by signing with Illinois.
Illini offensive coordinator Barry Lunney Jr. likes to move him around the formation, hunting match-ups for the 5’10, 180 pound playmaker. Through 4 games he has 24 receptions for 333 yards, leading his team in both areas. Oddly enough, he’s yet to crease the end zone. When Illinois scores, he tends to do the work getting them down the field, and someone else gets them in the end zone.
He’s more of a YAC receiver than a deep threat, but will occasionally get himself wide open on a double move. Defensive backs tend to be aggressive with him in coverage, because once he gets the ball in his hands, he’s electric. That opens them up for the slant-and-go and the out-and-up. In a game that could be a defensive struggle (it could also be a shoot-out....who knows), the Boilermakers would be well served to let someone other than Williams beat them.
This isn’t a great Illinois offense. They’re closer to Virginia Tech than Wisconsin in terms of talent. That said, Purdue’s defense has been a shifting target of suck. One game the secondary can’t cover, the next the defensive line can’t figure out how to tackle the quarterback. What new horror awaits us Saturday?
While they’re not uber-talented, neither is Purdue’s defense. It makes for an interesting match-up. Can Purdue’s struggling defense control Illinois’s struggling offense? Can Ryan Walters and Kevin Kane figure out a way to beat their old boss and stop the bleeding? Lots of questions, not many easy answers in this one. I suggest tuning in to find out, because I have no idea how this things is going to work out.