Woe is the Illini fan that just wants to beat a rival it should be better than year after year! Lovie Smith is 0-3 against the Purdue Boilermakers since he took over as head coach of the Illinois Fighting Illini. The last two ‘Cannon games’ were blowouts — last year’s 49-7 and 2017’s 29-10.
Did we mention we beat Wisconsin last week?
Does Illinois have it in itself to earn its SECOND conference win of the season, this time against the Big Ten school located closest geographically to Champaign? To the benefit of Illinois (and trust us, no one cheers for injuries), Purdue is depleted on both sides of the football. Illinois needs every advantage it can get as it crosses the boarder into Eastern Time Zone.
Purdue is coming off of a close loss on the road to a ranked Iowa Hawkeyes team. Purdue never held a lead in Iowa City, but in some ways similar to Illinois this year, the Boilers just keep fighting and have yet to fold or truly give up. Purdue is not what it was a year ago primarily because of injuries, but make no mistake, Purdue is a force in the Big Ten West thanks to Jeff Brohm and a newfound resilience in the way he coaches and motivates his football team.
When Purdue has the football
Purdue’s injury situation is as bad as anyone’s in the Big Ten, and maybe even across the national college football landscape. Sophomore wide receiver Rondale Moore, unquestionably one of the best all-around, all-purpose players in the country has been nursing a knee injury he suffered last month in the Boilers’ game against Minnesota. His status is listed as doubtful leading up to the Cannon game on Saturday. The Boilermakers miss his playmaking ability — he’s a threat to score whenever he touches the ball.
Purdue secured one of the Big Ten’s best recruiting classes in 2019, and already some of those true freshmen are making major impacts right away. The primary weapon on offense especially with Rondale Moore out has been true freshman wide receiver David Bell. As a recruit, Bell was the top-rated player in the state of Indiana and held offers from all of the top programs in the midwest including Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame, etc. Bell chose to play for Jeff Brohm in his home state of Indiana, and so far he’s been one of the top players in the conference. Bell is second in the Big Ten in receiving yards (635), third in the Big Ten in receptions (39) and sixth in the Big Ten in receiving touchdowns (4). He averages over 16 yards a catch and is easily one of the conference’s best big play wide receivers.
Bell earned Big Ten Freshman of the Week Honors after his performance at Iowa: 13 catches, 197 yards and a touchdown.
Like Moore, Purdue’s starting quarterback Elijah Sindelar also got hurt in the Minnesota game, breaking his collarbone and will certainly miss the game against Illinois this weekend. Starting in his place is redshirt freshman quarterback Jack Plummer — a big kid at 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds. Plummer’s been pretty solid in relief, tossing nine touchdown passes to five interceptions, completing just under 60 percent of his passes. Plummer has a big, big arm — and in the Iowa game last week, Plummer had 50 passing attempts... though that’s probably not a recipe for success in the Big Ten.
Purdue’s rush offense is... really bad
Purdue is nothing like Wisconsin from a week ago. In fact, Purdue has the worst rush-offense in the Big Ten and one of the worst in Power 5 football. The Boilermakers have a pathetic 414 rush yards through seven games played. They average a league worst 59.1 yards per game on the ground. Their run game is so bad, even Rutgers (the second worst Big Ten team at running the football) has over 350 more rush yards than the Boilers do on the season.
True freshman from Texas King Doerue is Purdue’s leading rusher, and he averages less than 3.5 per carry on the season. He has three rushing touchdowns and a receiving touchdown as well. It’s also possible that Purdue gets their bowling ball (he weighs 250 pounds) of a running back in Richie Worship back for the Illini game — although that’s unclear right now. Worship’s hardly played this year and missed all of 2018 after having knee surgery. As a goal-line back or in short yardage situation, he’s nearly impossible to bring down.
Another player to watch out for on Purdue’s offense is senior tight end Brycen Hopkins. He’s the team’s second-leading receiver (with Rondale Moore out), and if Hopkins catches two passes against the Illini, he’ll have 100 receptions in his Purdue career. He’s a reliable tight end and one of the best at his position in the conference. Hopkins is a player who projects as middle-round 2020 NFL Draft pick, according to WalterFootball.com.
Pass-first offense... Purdue’s O is unbalanced
All in all, Purdue is a pass-first offense. Purdue leads the Big Ten in total passing yards and average passing yards per game. Their game plan is very different from what teams like Wisconsin and Iowa typically run. There’s not much balance here at all.
When Illinois has the football
True freshman defensive end George Karlaftis is absolutely part of Jeff Brohm’s talent revolution at Purdue. He’s easily one of the best true freshman in the country on the defensive side of the ball. His 11 tackles for loss ranks third in the Big Ten. He weighs nearly 270 pounds but is quick off the edge when he’s rushing the passer.
Karlaftis had offers from every program in the country, including schools known for some of the best defensive lines nationally in Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and others — but he chose to play for his hometown team in Purdue. Rivals.com just last week ranked Karlaftis as the second best true freshman in college football on defense up until this halfway point in the season — only behind LSU’s DB Derek Stingley Jr.
With a season-long knee injury to middle linebacker Markus Bailey (Big Ten’s leader in solo tackles in 2018), even more onus has been put on Karlaftis to read the field and attack the quarterback.
Karlaftis may be the most talented and most intriguing prospect on the Purdue defense, but senior graduate transfer linebacker Ben Holt leads the team in tackles and is second in the Big Ten in solo tackles behind Maryland’s Antoine Brooks. Holt is the son of Purdue D-coordinator Nick Holt and the younger Holt has taken a leadership role on that side of the ball.
As a team, Purdue’s defensive stats are pretty similar to Illinois’. Purdue’s run defense is better than its pass defense, and its pass defense is second worst in the Big Ten behind the Maryland Terrapins. Purdue has the worst defense Illinois has faced thus far in Big Ten play.
Special Team Notes
In the return game, this is where Rondale Moore typically shines. Since he’s been injured, junior receiver Jackson Anthrop has been the primary kick and punt returner.
Anthrop is no Rondale Moore, but he’s definitely fast and capable of returning the ball for big yardage if touchbacks do not present themselves. Anthrop has family ties to Purdue... for those wondering.
Purdue’s kicker is senior J.D. Dellinger. He’s pretty good and is perfect on extra points this year, 22 for 22. He’s made 8 of 10 field goals on the year. The punter is true freshman Brooks Cormier, and he averages about 41 yards per punt.