The stakes for the Illini on Senior Day are the highest they’ve been in over a decade. Not only is the Cannon up for grabs, but so is a great chance to get a step closer to punching a ticket to Indianapolis for the opportunity to claim a Big Ten championship.
Last week’s game was unusual in many ways. Yes, Michigan State played the wind better than the Illini did, and the surprise return of Spartans who had missed time threw the Illini off. But the Boilermakers are in a different situation altogether, as they’re coming off a loss at Camp Randall followed by a devastating home shellacking from one of the worst Iowa Hawkeyes teams in years.
Needless to say, Purdue is beatable in Champaign this weekend. But to do so, Illinois will first need to...
“Flush” Last Week’s Performance Away
When Isaiah Williams was interviewed after the game against Minnesota a few weeks ago, he mentioned that after the Iowa game his coaches encouraged him to “flush” the pair of fumbles he committed in that game and focus on his opportunities going forwards.
What did he do afterward? He logged 253 receiving yards and three touchdowns in the subsequent three games, while also working his way back onto punt return duties.
Tommy DeVito ➡️ Isaiah Williams pic.twitter.com/JWJArtUbvO— IllinoisLoyalty (@IllinoisLoyalty) October 29, 2022
I like the aphorism that Isaiah used in that post-Iowa interview, and think it applies to the Illini as a whole now. Yes, the team had an uncharacteristically poor showing last week, but they can either get bogged down by it (think the 2011 Bruce Weber-coached Illini), or they can grow from it and improve like Williams has done over the past week.
The Illini have already overcome a disappointing performance once this season after the Indiana game, and they then went on to win six straight games afterward. Nothing is preventing the Illini from bouncing back again in a similar manner, but it’s hard to overstate how mentally difficult it can be to move on from disappointment in any sports context. It’ll be mostly on Coach Bielema to keep the team in a good headspace going forward, and I have no doubt he’ll push the right buttons to keep the team grounded.
But even if Illinois can “flush” last week’s performance, then they’ll still need to...
Disrupt Aidan O’Connell and Charlie Jones
The Boilermakers run an unusually pass-heavy offense for a Big Ten West team, but that actually plays into the strengths of the Illini defense. Devon Witherspoon, Sydney Brown, Quan Martin, and company should be well equipped to face off against one of the best receiver-passer duos in the conference.
Johnny Newton, Keith Randolph, and Gabe Jacas also have role to play here too, since they can make life difficult for Aidan O’Connell in the pocket and in turn induce incompletions and interceptions like they did last week.
As long as the defensive front and secondary can bottle up the Boilermakers in unison, then the effectiveness of Purdue’s passing attack can be minimized.
We know we can count on Chase Brown to rush for another +100 yards, so offensive production shouldn’t be too much of an issue as long as the defense can keep better field position than the Illini offense had to work with last week.
It sounds like a broken record at this point, but it’s absolutely true. This is the most important game played in Memorial Stadium in recent memory, much more so than last week’s non-divisional matchup. Illinois has everything they need to win this game, and I’m confident that they will.