Illinois suffered a heartbreaking loss to Maryland last Friday in Champaign, and while there are a lot of things to feel down about as an Illini fan, I don’t buy into the idea that losing by a little is worse than losing by a lot. In any sport, you want your team to be competitive, and Illinois was at least competitive against Maryland.
This week, the Fighting Illini travel to Purdue, who is coming off a 27-13 loss at Notre Dame. Former Illinois QBs coach Jeff Brohm is the head coach for the Boilermakers. He’s signed until 2025, and frankly, Purdue has gotten worse each year under his watch.
Illinois is hoping to win its second straight game in West Lafayette and take the all-time lead in the rivalry — the two teams are currently knotted at 45-45-6.
A former QB himself, Brohm has two quarterbacks that he’s comfortable with and plays almost interchangeably. Jack Plummer has taken most of the snaps this year, but Aidan O’Connell is equally likely to play, especially after Plummer left early last week.
Both players started in 2019 and played in Illinois’ 24-6 victory. Plummer has shown more ability overall since both players debuted two years ago, yet it was O’Connell who took revenge on the Illini last year. In Purdue’s 31-24 win, he completed 29 of 35 attempts with 371 yards, two touchdowns, and no picks.
The Boilermakers’ biggest threat on offense is Preseason All-Big Ten WR David Bell, who is in the concussion protocol this week after a very scary injury at Notre Dame. Tight end Payne Durham and WR Jackson Anthrop are reliable in the passing game for Purdue, but missing Bell would certainly be a big blow to Purdue.
Since 2019, the Boilers have relied on RBs Zach Horvath and King Doerue. Horvath had a strong year in 2020 with 442 yards on 89 carries, while Doerue had a down campaign. Freshman Dylan Downing has provided a nice change of pace this year rushing for 92 yards on 23 carries.
Each year under Brohm, the Boilermakers have relied less and less on their rushing attack and more on the passing game. That could be a function of their declining overall play, but either way that’ll be an issue for them in the Big Ten. Against Notre Dame, Purdue rushed 25 times for only 57 yards.
Overall, Purdue’s defense is probably stronger than its offense. Their 4-3 front kept them in the game against Notre Dame, sacking Jack Coan four times. The star of their line is homegrown defensive end George Karlaftis. When he was recruited, Karlaftis was ranked as high as the third best defensive end nationally, as well as 27th overall by 24/7. The matchup of Karlaftis against Illinois’ tackles promises to be intriguing
Weakside LB Jaylan Alexander and strongside LB Jalen Graham have been excellent this year. Graham in particular has flown to the ball, recording 12 tackles, one sack, three pass deflections, and a forced fumble.
Purdue’s starting CBs have been a little rough this year, but its safeties have done their best to make up for it. Both Cam Allen and Marvin Grant have more than a dozen solo tackles. Allen has four career interceptions. Grant, a four-star recruit from Detroit, has yet to record his first pick. They’ll be looking to make up for last week after allowing three scores of 35+ yards against Notre Dame.
Transfer place kicker Mitchell Finneran has been perfect so far, converting all five of his attempts, including a 48-yard FG. The punters are a different story, as Purdue is last in the Big Ten in both gross (total) and net (yards after the return) punting yards.
At Notre Dame, punter Jack Ansell shanked two punts in a row for under 30 yards and was replaced by Brendan Cropsey. Cropsey proceeded to record a 56-yard punt followed by a 40-yard punt, and a 31-yard punt. Brohm then went back to Ansell for the last punt of the game.
This might be the one area where Illinois has a clear advantage on Purdue. Blake Hayes forever.