Illinois is above .500 in the month of October. Let that sink in a bit.
The Illini have a chance to keep their winning ways alive against Purdue on Saturday, but the Boilermakers will prove to be a tough team to beat. Illinois will come away victorious on Homecoming if it can keep up the traits that have helped them to win and stay competitive in games up to this point.
The Illini have quickly transformed into a team that specializes in takeaways, and you can see it in the way they attempt riskier tackles to try to knock the ball out. These efforts have proven successful even against better opponents this year, but the Purdue offense will be a critical test. Elijah Sindelar, Markell Jones, and Rondale Moore are all athletic offensive threats on a unit that ranks 19th in total offense.
Needless to say, Purdue will be able to put up points. Whether or not the Illini stay competitive in this game will depend upon their ability to force fumbles or interceptions to stop the Boilermaker offense and give Rod Smith’s unit a field position advantage. Jartavius Martin, Del’Shawn Phillips and Nate Hobbs have all been instrumental in forcing turnovers this season, and they will need to play major roles in this game.
Keep Running the Ball
AJ Bush, Mike Epstein, and Reggie Corbin have begun to form the core of one of the better rushing offenses in the conference this season. This is a testament to Illinois’ improved offensive line play and the work of Trenard Davis and Ricky Smalling to get open and force defenses to respect the pass.
Even though there is plenty of room for improvement, it’s clear to see that this offense has an identity and functions well on a consistent basis. Plays like this happen every game now, while they were few and far between just a year ago:
Reggie Corbin Touchdown pic.twitter.com/KqvXV7qpZ3— IllinoisLoyalty (@IllinoisLoyalty) October 6, 2018
If the defense can force turnovers and the offense can keep pace with the Boilermakers, then this should be a competitive game. Hopefully players like Bennett Williams and Lou Dorsey can get out of their respective funks and return to the form they showed last season, as the Illini could seriously use both players at peak performance.
This is a winnable game for Illinois, and a victory against another mid-tier conference opponent would solidify the team’s place in the Big Ten pecking order.
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