Can Purdue keep the Cannon and take the overall series lead?
Purdue only has one rivalry trophy at the moment, and that is the Cannon. It is a trophy that Purdue has had a lot over the last couple decades. Since 1994 Purdue is 15-6 against the Illini, with many of those losses coming in recent seasons at home. It is a bizarre series. The home team has actually lost 8 of the last nine games, and Purdue has won five in a row in Champaign after last season’s win.
Because of that, the Illinois game is always relatively important. In those six seasons that Purdue has lost to the Illini it only made the postseason twice, in 2002. Conversely, Purdue has made bowl games in nine of the 16 seasons where the Boilers won the Cannon. In many of those seasons Purdue was 6-6, so a win over the Illini was the difference between a bowl and no bowl. That was true the last four times Purdue made a bowl game.
We are a quarter of the way through the season. Purdue is a third of the way towards bowl eligibility and there are a couple of opponents that Purdue has as “must wins” if it is going to return to a bowl game. Illinois and Northwestern have looked bad, so Purdue needs to beat them. It seems like the most likely spots for the other two needed wins would be Minnesota, Nebraska, and Indiana, but those two are a trier above the Illini.
It is hard to see Purdue making a bowl with a loss to the Illini.
2020 Record: 2-6
2021 Recored: 1-3, 1-2
Bowl Result: None
Blog Representation: The Champaign Room
Series with Purdue: Series tied 45-45-6
Last Purdue win: 31-24 at Illinois on 10/31/2020
Last Illinois win: 24-6 at Purdue on 10/26/2019
Head Coach: Bret Bielema (1-3 in first season at Illinois, 98-61 overall)
Line: Purdue by 10
The Season So Far
Things at least started well for the Illini. They got a nice 30-22 win over Nebraska during week 0 and things looked promising. Since then, they have lost three in a row. Texas-San Antonio came to Champaign and pushed them around, looking a lot better than Big Ten Nebraska. The offense was punchless in a 42-14 loss at Virginia. Last week they dropped a 20-17 game to Maryland where they were leading 17-10 with three minutes left, but gave up 10 points in the final 2:13 and somehow completed a pass to their center.
This is a team that has struggled with consistency on offense and the defense is the worst in the Big Ten. They are giving up a league worst 30.3 points per game 481 yards per game. How bad is that? They are only 10 yards per game better than UConn, and Purdue moved the ball at will on the Huskies before putting in the backups. It is the second best passing offense in the conference for Purdue against the worst passing defense in the league.
In short, if the Purdue offense can’t get back on track this week, it won’t the rest of the season.
Who to Watch on Offense
Brandon Peters – QB – Peters returned as the starter last week and it was his first full game of the season. He was… not great. He completed 10 of 26 passes for only 185 yards and an interception. Artur Sitkowski has done better as the backup, completing 58 of 102 passes for 611 yards and 6 TDs against one interception. He also beat Purdue with Rutgers last season. The passing offense is not great, and Purdue’s pass defense has been surprisingly decent at only 202 yards per game. The offensive line has given up 12 sacks so far.
A Plethora of Running Backs – There is going to be quite the diversified rushing attack, as is typical for Bret Bielema. They have five running backs that have rushed for between 80 and 150 yards, led by Reggie Love III’s 146 yards. They will mix things up, but don’t have one dominant guy.
Isaiah Williams – WR – Williams is the top target by a wide margin with 21 receptions for 230 yards and a touchdown. No one else on the team has more than 9 receptions. Tight end Daniel Barker is a red zone threat with a pair of touchdowns on only four catches.
Jake Hansen – LB – The senior linebacker has been a long time stalwart on the defense and he has 30 tackles, 2.5 for loss, a sack, and two forced fumbles. He is approaching 300 tackles in his career, so he has about as much experience as you can ask for.
Devon Witherspoon – DB – Is David Bell going to be back? I have my doubts he plays this week, so the assignment for the Illinois secondary just got a little easier. Witherspoon is a solid defensive back with 27 tackles, 4 for loss, and a team leading 7 pass breakups. Of his tackles, 24 are solo, a team best.
Jer’Zahn Newton – DL – Newton is only a redshirt freshman, but he leads the team with two sacks. He brings good size to the line at 6’2”, 290 pounds and gives them a nice presence up front.
Who to Watch on Special Teams
Blake Hayes – P – Purdue has been an absolute mess at punter, so having a guy that averages 44 yards per kick is a nice luxury for the Illini.
James McCourt – K – McCourt is only 4 of 6 on field goals, but he has hit from 53 yards. He had a 26 yard field goal blocked by Maryland.
So far Purdue has performed according to plan. It got the Oregon State game that was somewhat of a toss up, blew out UConn, and was competitive against a top 15 Notre dame team. Illinois better than UConn (though not by much defensively), but probably worse than Oregon State. As I said above, it is a game Purdue cannot afford to lose it if wants to reach a bowl game.
Purdue should have more room to move the ball this week even if David Bell is out. The pass defense is bad. The run defense is okay, but not as good as Notre Dame’s. I am looking for Purdue to continue to try and improve on the offensive line and diversify the offense a little.
Defensively, Purdue should be able to do some things. It is facing another struggling offense line and Peters has not been good so far. He did beat Purdue in Ross-Ade two years ago, but Sitkowski did too last year and so far he has been the better quarterback.
Purdue needs to get ahead early in this game and put them away. Illinois has not shown an ability to really fight back when trailing so far, and their one road venture was a disaster. The defense needs to get after Peters early and often, and hopefully get some turnovers too.
The Boilers will be alright if they play at an Oregon State game level or better.