Thumpasaurus: Purdue 24, Illinois 17
The loss of David Bell for this game is a massive blow to Purdue’s chances, as he won their game against us by himself last year, ripping a poorly thrown ball out of the hands of Nate Hobbs to ice the game.
However, Purdue’s defense has improved from last year’s fairly disastrous outing. The English/Bennett/Hagen brain trust has shown a noticeable improvement to Bob Diaco’s poor 2020 unit. Head coach Jeff Brohm wisely conceded that after just one season it was clear that the Diaco hire wouldn’t pan out, and so he moved on.
Illinois might want to take note of that, because offensive coordinator Tony Petersen has yet to demonstrate that he has any business calling plays for a Big Ten team. Of the many factors that allowed a horribly undisciplined Maryland team to walk out with a win, the offensive playcalling was perhaps the most inexcusable. It’s been a problem all year as Petersen refuses to adapt to the realities of our game situation and call for nothing but inside power run plays and slow-developing three-step-drop passing plays, even when the opponent is very good up front like Virginia or is completely sold out to stop the interior rushing game like Maryland was. Neither of your QB’s have great pocket presence and the only healthy pass catchers you have are either speedy slot guys or literal tight ends. Some quick slants, screens or jet sweeps, especially with some misdirection, might have been able to get 5-10 yards consistently. We never tested the edge with something like a stretch play even after our best between-the-tackles back went down hurt.
When Bielema sent the punt team out on 4th and 1, I thought back to a couple of 3rd and short situations against Nebraska and UTSA where we lined Epstein up like 8 yards behind the line of scrimmage and the play was very slow to develop, losing yards in the end. Very inappropriate for that situation. I wonder if Bielema was thinking about that too, not trusting his offensive coordinator to call a play or his interior linemen to generate the needed push. It’s pretty bleak.
I expect we’ll stick to our guns and continue to pretend we’re Wisconsin, and for that reason Purdue will take an early lead and never feel threatened, even if our defense shows up.
EDIT: Okay, I just saw that Josh McCray, Chase Brown and Julian Pearl are back for this game. This might make it interesting. I redact 24-10 and instead say 24-17
Matt Rejc: Purdue 30, Illinois 21
Winning on the road in the Big Ten is always very difficult, and this Purdue team is no pushover. Given Illinois’ recent trend of either getting clobbered by opponents or snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, I can’t predict a win on Saturday. In this case, I see the Illini keeping it close through three quarters until the Boilermakers break it open in the fourth. Without a meaningful passing attack, Illinois will be unable to keep up with Purdue in the closing minutes of the game, and Bielema’s crew will return to Champaign with more questions than answers.
Blake Dietz: Purdue 38, Illinois 28
Purdue returns home after games at UConn and Notre Dame. Combined with a competitive, but disappointing loss to Notre Dame last week, I see a Purdue team hungry to play well in front of their West Lafayette faithful. Of course, the Illini have plenty of reasons to match Purdue’s hunger, but after four games I just don’t see the talent to pull this game out. Illinois has a talented running game, but sorely lacks gamechanging talent behind center. Expectations for the defense are so low that almost 500 yards of offense allowed was considered a step forward. Until proven otherwise, the Illini appear to be at a talent disadvantage in every Big Ten game they play this season.
Quentin Wetzel: Purdue 31, Illinois 21
My aggravation with Bielema’s fourth quarter decisions notwithstanding, I actually think Illinois played pretty well last week. I mean, if you told me before the game that Illinois would only lose by 3, I would have been happy with it. So I expect the Illini to compete with Purdue. But I also think that Purdue is clearly the better team, and its passing offense could give Illinois some serious trouble. On the road, I have trouble seeing the Illini pull out a win, but they manage to keep the score respectable in West Lafayette.
Drew Pastorek: Illinois 24, Purdue 17
Oh, fine...I’ll stand on this island alone! As maddening as the Maryland game was last week, Illinois showed much improvement defensively. Without Zander Horvath and (likely) David Bell, the Illini ought to have a chance to compete with the Boilermakers. Illinois obviously has struggled away from Champaign, but it’s not like Ross-Ade Stadium is some impenetrable fortress.
This could very well be the only remaining winnable Big Ten game on the schedule. Josh McCray & Chase Brown are both healthy, and I expect a heavy running attack once again. Here’s hoping Tony Petersen calls some more creative plays, Bret Bielema doesn’t choose to punt on the Purdue 40 with three minutes left, and that Brandon Peters doesn’t hold on to the football six seconds too long.
Jeff Horwitz: Illinois 27, Purdue 24
You’re not alone, Drew! Purdue is better than Illinois when healthy, but as my colleagues have mentioned, they’re not healthy! In fact, their offensive skill players are all banged up. QB Jack Plummer, RB Zander Horvath, and WR David Bell are all either questionable or out for Saturday. We saw QB Aidan O’Connell torch the Illini last year, but the loss of David Bell is huge. He’s their main offensive weapon, and Purdue has struggled to run the ball so far. If Illinois can somehow get a two-score lead, I see Jeff Brohm getting pass happy and abandoning the run without his best wideout.