It feels good coming off a win, doesn’t it Illini Nation? Now that the Big Ten Conference losing streak has come to an end against Rutgers, it’s time to shift focus back home — to Homecoming Weekend, when the Illini host the Purdue Boilermakers in Champaign at 2:30 p.m. on FS1.
In a series that dates back to 1890 (and as founding members of the Big Ten Conference), Illinois leads the all-time series against Purdue 44-43-6. Just 90 miles separates these two campuses with proud engineering and agricultural roots. Also of note: Purdue is coming off of a bye week after pummeling Nebraska 42-28 in front of 90,000 people in Lincoln.
Here are some keys to ensuring the Purdue Cannon comes back to Champaign in 2018:
Illinois Defense Will Bend A Lot — Just Don’t Break
Purdue is an offensive juggernaut. Purdue ranks 26th in the country in total passing yards and 13th in the country in passing yards per game. Quarterback David Blough is slinging the ball around accurately. He’s completed 68 percent of 151 passing attempts and has seven touchdown passes to just one interception. Against Illinois, Blough will be making his 37th appearance in a Purdue uniform — he’s an extremely experienced player who’s been through a few ups and many downs indicative of a senior quarterback at Purdue. That experience counts for a lot.
The Purdue offense averages 320 pass yards per game. Counter to that, the Illini are allowing 295 pass yards per game, which ranks last in the Big Ten. Bottom line: Purdue is going to throw for a ton of yards agains the Illini — Jeff Brohm knows it, Lovie knows it and it’s important for defensive coordinator Hardy Nickerson to get on his guys in practice all week leading up to this showdown.
The Illini make up for their porous pass defense by taking the ball away. They are the best team in the Big Ten at taking the ball away, and are currently tied for fourth in the nation in interceptions.
Certainly Purdue will throw for massive amounts of yards — it’s what’s to be expected and it’s what the Boilermakers’ system is based on. If the Illini can absorb those yards and win the turnover margin with the occasional interception or two (or three!), there’s a good chance the Illini can keep this game close enough for a win.
Illinois Offense: Continue Running The Ball — Keep Purdue’s Potent Offense Off The Field
The best way to neutralize Purdue’s high-flying offense is to not let them have the ball. In other words, “pull a Wisconsin.” What does that mean? Run, run, run the ball and move the chains. Control the clock. Keep possession. Grind out drives. Exploit Purdue’s 73rd ranked rush-defense behind the two-headed monster of Mike Epstein and Reggie Corbin. The only Big Ten teams worse than Purdue at stopping the run are Nebraska, Illinois and Rutgers.
Reggie Corbin (7.86 yards/carry) and Mike Epstein (6.79 yards/carry) rank fourth and 12th in FBS in yards per carry.— Illini Stats & Notes (@IlliniStats) October 8, 2018
Corbin and Epstein rank No. 1 and No. 2 in the Big Ten in yards per carry.
Quarterback A.J. Bush is back in the fold, looks healthy and is an X-factor for the Illini. With Corbin and Epstein garnering a ton of attention, in zone-read RPO plays, Bush has the wits and speed to burn defenses much like he did against Rutgers last week. Bush had 116 rushing yards and two touchdowns on the ground, so he’s a difficult quarterback to prepare for.
Purdue beat Illinois in 2017 by 19 points. This new-look Illini offense under coordinator Rod Smith will give Purdue a lot more fits than it did a season ago.
Rondale Moore: Keep Him In Check
Head coach Jeff Brohm is recruiting well. In just his second season at the helm in West Lafayette, the former Western Kentucky head coach is still balancing the talent from the Darrell Hazell regime to the freshmen and sophomores Brohm handpicked himself.
One of the new guys, players and programs around the country are well aware of is true freshman Rondale Moore. Moore has five total touchdowns (four receiving, one rushing) and just short of 500 yards from scrimmage. Moore was originally a verbal commit to the Texas Longhorns before shocking many and choosing to sign with Purdue. Moore is from Trinity High School in Louisville, Kentucky — the same high school his Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm played and starred at — a bond and connection was there from the beginning and likely had a major impact in Moore’s decision to attend Purdue.
Lightning in a bottle is the best way to describe what the 5-foot-9 wide receiver is capable of. In the Big Ten, only Ohio State and maybe Michigan has athletes like Rondale Moore, and he’ll be the most dynamic player on the field this Saturday in Champaign. In Purdue’s opening week loss to Northwestern, Moore had 18 touches for a school record 313 yards and two touchdowns. Watch him sprint past the entire Northwestern defense on this motion, jet-sweep play:
The Illini defense has no choice but to key in on Rondale Moore. Let Purdue’s other weapons have their chances — just don’t allow Rondale Moore to have the ball in open space where he’s absolutely lethal and score on any given play.
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