On Saturday, the Illini have a chance to get within one game of winning the Big Ten West.
Before the season, Illinois fans would be thrilled with a 7-2 record and a chance to win the division. After Illinois’ disappointing loss to Michigan State, throughout social media, fans have expressed their disappointment amid higher expectations. Yet Illinois fans must remember that this program has been through many struggles and doesn’t change in a few months.
The Illini have a chance to face a struggling Purdue team to re-assert their place at the top of the Big Ten West.
Season So Far
Purdue football has experienced many ups and downs this season. They opened the season losing two of their first three games both in close defeats to Penn State and Syracuse.
Purdue then won its next four games including wins against Minnesota and Maryland. At this point, the Illinois-Purdue matchup was expected to decide the Big Ten West and could draw national attention. This wouldn’t be the case as Purdue was dominated by Iowa and Wisconsin in blowout losses.
At its best, Purdue has a productive offense, especially in the passing game, and a good enough defense to maintain leads. Recently, the Purdue defense has struggled allowing big plays and committing many penalties. Their offense has not been able to put drives together as they were shut down by Iowa and Wisconsin.
Purdue’s offense is led by Aidan O’Connell. This is O’Connell’s second season starting for the Boilermakers, but it feels like he has been at Purdue forever. O’Connell is an experienced quarterback who has a big arm and isn’t afraid to sling the ball around the field. He is the most accurate passer in Purdue history and if necessary, can scramble with his legs. As O’Connell goes, so does the Purdue offense.
The Boilermakers have doesn’t often rely on their run game, but it can be productive if they need it. They rank 97th in the nation in rushing offense and splits their carries between Devin Mockobee and Dylan Downing. Against Iowa, they combined for 100 yards on 23 attempts and have struggled to break off big gains. The Illini defense will not have a focus on the Purdue run game.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Purdue’s passing game features Charlie Jones, who comes from Deerfield. He committed to Buffalo and transferred to Iowa. If you remember, last season, Jones returned a kickoff 100-yards for a touchdown against the Illini. After last season, he transferred to Purdue. He currently ranks seventh in receiving yards in the nation and has 944 for 9 touchdowns. While he is only 6-foot, Jones can catch anything that comes in his direction and has big play ability, as the Illini already know.
Tight end Payne Durham also is an important component of the Purdue offense. He has 41 receptions for 411 yards and caught a series of big plays that helped Purdue beat Maryland. For O’Connell, Durham is a productive target that the Illini will need to stop.
The Purdue defense has been inconsistent this season. They have given up big touchdowns in the final few minutes against Penn State, Maryland, and Syracuse. Its run defense allowed Iowa to rush for over 200 yards but held Penn State to under 100. Illinois will need to rely on Chase Brown to exploit this run game.
The Boilermaker pass defense has struggled throughout the season. They are especially prone to big plays and their secondary has been decimated by injuries. They needed to put a WR in against Wisconsin. The Illini offense will need to exploit this vulnerability, but they have struggled to throw the ball downfield this season.
So can the Illini win?
Both teams will come into this game hungry for a big win against a division opponent. Purdue needs its offense to find a way to move the ball and stop Illinois in the red zone which Illinois struggled in against Michigan State. Illinois must rely on its running game but also take shots downfield when they have the chance.
This game will be a slugfest on a cold day in Champaign.