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Illinois vs. Purdue Positional Report Cards

The Illini offense had another rough game

NCAA Football: Illinois at Purdue Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports

The weekly betting points spread ultimately doesn’t mean much in terms of anything real, unless you’re putting your money on the line, but it is one indicator of how people that know football perceive your team.

Illinois was a 14.5-point underdog on the road against a then-3-5 Purdue team that had also just had the pleasure of losing to Rutgers. The Illini and Boilers are probably the bottom two teams in the conference (maybe throw Minnesota in that mix also? Seriously, the honeymoon has to be over for P.J. Fleck up north) and Vegas had the Illini lagging behind by two touchdowns.

Think about that: Illinois is at least two touchdowns worse than any other Big Ten team at this moment in time. Yikes.

And they were right! Illinois lost to Purdue 29-10 on Saturday at Ross-Ade Stadium in a game that happened to be pretty close for around three quarters before Purdue piled on a pair of touchdowns to bury Illinois.

Here’s my weekly grades on how the Illini fared in the loss Saturday:

Quarterbacks

Grade: C-

Cam Thomas played most of the game, and it was the best of his career in terms of passing the ball. It’s hard to be worse throwing the ball than Thomas had been in his first two games, completing four passes to Illinois guys and three passes to dudes on the other team.

But Saturday, Thomas showed signs of progress, completing 10 of 20 passes for 159 yards and no turnovers. His rushing numbers weren’t as effective as they had been in past weeks due to sacks, as Thomas rushed for 30 yards on 14 carries.

Relief pitcher Jeff George Jr. came in during red zone situations and late in the game when Illinois had to throw and he was brutal. George Jr. was 2 of 7 passing for just 11 yards with the lone touchdown to Louis Dorsey but also an interception. He also lost 14 yards on three carries (two sacks).

Running back

Grade: B-

Kendrick Foster was the only guy that played at running back and he was effective, accumulating a total of 119 yards when combining rushing and receiving yards.

Foster was subpar on a few blitz pickups that left his quarterbacks vulnerable, once barely getting a hand on a blitzer off the edge, and another time blocking a defender off the edge instead of the one coming through A gap for another quarterback hurry.

With three running backs already injured and Reggie Corbin in some kind of weird exile state, Foster is simply the only option for Illinois at running back right now.

Wide receivers

Grade: D

Foster was the team’s leading receiver with 46 yards, and Ricky Smalling led the Illini wideouts with two catches for 46 yards. Smalling hauled in a beautiful 42-yard grab on a deep ball from Thomas early in the game, but otherwise was a non-factor.

Malik Turner caught a pair of passes for 34 yards before leaving the game with an ankle injury. The senior seemed to get rolled up on his leg from behind and did not return.

Injuries have also decimated the Illini receiving corps, as Carmoni Green, Trenard Davis and Mike Dudek were all not available. After Turner went down, Illinois was left with just four scholarship receivers: Smalling, Dominic Thieman, Sam Mays and Kendall Smith.

Offensive line

Grade: D-

Freshman center Doug Kramer was sidelined this week with injury so the Illini *only* started three freshmen on the offensive line this week. Nick Allegretti moved over from guard to center and Christian DiLauro made his first career start at guard.

It wasn’t the best effort for this bunch, as Purdue racked up five sacks on the day and held Illinois to 2.3 yards per carry. Ja’Whaun Bentley was a constant terror on defense for Purdue, as the linebacker had 12 tackles and 2.5 TFLs.

In addition, penalties along the offensive front really hurt Illinois in some key areas, as two pre-snap penalties led to an Illini punt, despite starting that drive at the Purdue 26-yard line following a fumble.

Defensive line

Grade: D+

Purdue racked up 209 rushing yards and was able to assert its will in the running game. If Purdue is able to run the ball down your throat, that’s a very bad sign.

I’ve talked before about ‘disruptive plays’ where the defensive line is able to shed blocks and stuff runners before they even get going. Illinois had a few nice plays out of Jamal Milan in particular, but only had two tackles for loss on the day.

James Crawford recorded the team’s lone sack, but he looked lost at times in run coverage.

Linebackers

Grade: D-

Del’Shawn Phillips and Dele Harding led the unit with six tackles each, while converted defensive end Christian Abercrombie had four stops.

The linebackers were reduced to making stops a few yards down the field on rushing plays and had real difficulty in pass coverage. Purdue tight end Bryce Hopkins got loose on a few occasions to lead the Boilermakers with 53 yards receiving.

Secondary

Grade: D

As mentioned above, Purdue’s running game was clicking, but its passing attack was also formidable as the Boilers were 18 of 28 passing for 226 yards.

Stanley Green had a team-high 10 tackles but absolutely should have been ejected for targeting late in the game, as he launched his helmet into the temple of Purdue quarterback David Blough on a scramble. Somehow, the officials overturned the call after review. I have no idea what targeting is because the rationale is seemingly different every week.

Cameron Watkins dropped a sure interception on a bad decision from Blough early in the game. Bennett Williams and Patrick Nelson, normally a pair of stat-sheet stuffers, combined for just four and two tackles, respectively.

Special teams

Grade: B+

No qualms with this group. Team MVP Blake Hayes booted six punts at a 40.7-yard clip with two downed inside the 20.

Chase McLaughlin nailed his only field goal attempt, and Nate Hobbs averaged more than 20 yards on a pair of kick returns.

The Illini punt team “forced” their own takeaway of the game when Purdue punt returner Jackson Anthrop muffed a kick and Illini recovered.