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Behind Enemy Lines: Purdue Boilermakers

Can the Illini hold onto the Cannon for a second year?

NCAA Football: Illinois at Purdue Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

TCR: The obvious question is Rondale’s status? What is the likelihood we see him when the Boilermakers come to Champaign on Saturday? What should we expect from the offense if he is back?

Travis Miller, Manager, Hammer & Rails: Your guess is as good as mine. Last week at this time he was still on for Iowa, then out, but was going to play this week. Coach Brohm has played it incredibly coy, but if I had to guess (and this is just a guess) he tweaked something in a practice and is pretty much day to day. Of course, this is how it went last year, so hopefully we’re not playing this game all season.

Honestly, if he is back, the Purdue offense could be lethal. The offensive line had a solid first game. Zander Horvath was really good in the running game to make us multidimensional. Lost in the David Bell show was sophomore Milton Wright having a really good game too and TE Payne Durham was solid. Two other experienced receivers, Jared Sparks and Amad Anderson Jr. had four total catches, but were great in downfield blocking. Even true freshman stud Maliq Carr had a catch and another near TD.

We have a ridiculous amount of talent at receiver even without Rondale. Getting him back makes things a lot of fun. The thought of Bell and Moore playing together (they only had 3 games together last season and Bell hadn’t really broken out yet by then) has us salivating. Just give us one game of them terrorizing teams, God, please.

TCR: What happened last week? I know a lot of us probably expected Iowa to walk all over Purdue without Rondale and Brohm. Did you feel like something specific was clicking or was that not a surprising win?

TM: I think one of the biggest things was Iowa playing as conservative as always. They had a chance before halftime to turn an interception into a touchdown and basically settled for a field goal. They also had two huge fumbles in Purdue territory that cost them points. The second one led to Purdue’s game-winning drive.

One of the interesting things about Aidan O’Connell is that he now has four starts and significant action in two more games, but he has led three game-winning drives in the last five minutes. He is still shaky at times and is not much of a threat to run. He needs to learn to put some touch on his passes (he cost us at least three when a hard pass behind a wide open Durham was batted in the air and picked off inside the 20), but he has definitely been clutch.

Also, the defense played surprisingly well against a first time starter. We were outgained, but made plays when we needed to, none bigger than Dedrick Mackey forcing that fourth quarter fumble as Iowa was driving to put the game away.

TCR: Speaking of Brohm, how big of a part did he play in last weekend’s upset? What can we expect from him this weekend?

TM: From all I have heard he will be back on the sidelines, and who knows how much he was able to do remotely. All we know is he had to cut off all communication 90 minutes before kickoff. One of the things that Purdue fans liked about Brian Brohm is that he showed a little more commitment to the running game. Last year we were horrific running the ball. On Saturday, Horvath got stronger as the game went on and really punished Iowa in the second half. The return of King Doerue this week as last year’s leading rusher will help too.

With Jeff back on the sidelines I hope that continues. We also might see a trick play or two. Sparks is a former QB who had a TD pass to David Blough at Illinois two years ago and Wright had a TD pass at Wisconsin last year. Does Jeff get a little tricky?

TCR: Your expectations for the year? Are the Boilermakers a darkhorse candidate for the B1G West crown?

TM: I would say we definitely improved our outlook with last week’s win. Iowa is always going to be a solid team and it was very good to beat them when we weren’t at full strength. If we beat the Illini, then beat Wisconsin on their fourth string QB being 3-0 both in the Big Ten and in the division (with tiebreakers over Wisconsin and Iowa) is a very good place to be. I thought our East crossovers with Rutgers and Indiana would be easier, but they are still better than Ohio State and Michigan. Now that we beat Iowa I think six wins in the nine games is achievable, and anything better sets the stage for what would be an excellent 2021 since we’re a fairly young team still.

Basically, I want to take care of business in Champaign, then see if we can end that pesky 14 game losing streak against Wisconsin. Getting Rondale back at some point makes that even more possible.

TCR: How do you see Saturday playing out?

TM: To be honest I am pretty confident, and that is likely bad for us. Purdue has done extremely well in Champaign lately, winning four straight and six of seven. My goodness, even Hazell won there! TWICE! He won more Big Ten games there than he did in West Lafayette. The Illinois offense looked like a mess against Wisconsin, but you did pull off the win last year with a strong running game, two costly turnovers, and only three completed passes. If we can avoid self-inflicted wounds I think we win.

I am just sad there are no fans and I can’t come over to hit Binny’s, Garcia’s, Jamba Juice in your union, Beef House on the way home, Black Dog in Urbana, and possibly an establishment that sells products of a different legal nature in Illinois.

Thanks to Travis for participating in our Q&A. You can find him on Twitter at @JustTMill. Be sure to check out Hammer & Rails as well!