Illini, Boilermakers have a lot on the line
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP) Illinois and Purdue have long been out of the race for the Big Ten title.
That doesn't mean their game Saturday lacks high stakes for each program.
Illinois (4-4, 1-3 Big Ten) still has a shot at bowl eligibility with two more wins, though a three-game losing skid has the team more likely playing for interim coach Bill Cubit's future in Champaign, Illinois.
Purdue (2-6, 1-3) snapped a five-game skid and a nine-game Big Ten winless drought with its 55-45 victory against Nebraska last weekend, taking some of the pressure off third-year coach Darrell Hazell (6-26 overall). Defensive coordinator Greg Hudson's unit force five turnovers.
Hudson's son, linebacker Garrett Hudson, understands that having an opportunity to win two in a row means a lot to Purdue and its frustrated fan base.
''It sure makes mom happy,'' Garrett Hudson said. ''It's not just about us as a family. It's the whole city, the university and the kids around school that I've never talked to before saying, `Hey, good job.' I tell them thank you. That feels good. It's great to have them on your side and to acknowledge you.''
Garrett Hudson also understands how important Saturday's game is to both teams.
''With only four games left, it's really important when you are trying to get to a bowl game,'' Hudson said. ''It's not Ohio State, but Illinois is a very good football team. They could come out here and blow people out of the water.''
Purdue senior cornerback Anthony Brown, who intercepted three passes against Nebraska, said there is new enthusiasm in the Boilermaker locker room.
''The Nebraska win was very significant, because with it, we gained a lot of confidence,'' Brown said. ''Now, we know what it takes to win.''
Hazell expects Illinois' best shot.
''They have had a really tough last four physical weeks with Nebraska, Wisconsin, Iowa and Penn State,'' Hazell said. ''That is what Big Ten football is all about - how well you can sustain those physical teams you play week in and week out. They are a little banged up, but I am sure we will see their `A' game.''
Some things to watch in Saturday's game:
While Illinois and Purdue rank fifth and sixth, respectively, in Big Ten passing, the Boilermakers are 13th (140.9 yards a game) and the Illini are last (114.6) in conference rushing statistics. Part of Illinois' run game problems center on running back Josh Ferguson's injury woes. He returned to practice this week.
With Boilermaker quarterback David Blough completing 28 of 43 passes for 274 yards and four touchdowns against Nebraska, and former Purdue quarterback Drew Brees passing for seven TDs in a victory against the New York Giants the next day, will there be a recruiting benefit for Purdue?
''Any time you can highlight the best part of your program, you do so,'' Hazell said. ''For those guys to have consecutive days the way they did, that was really big for the Boilermakers.''
Hazell and Cubit were assistant coaches at Rutgers in 2001 and 2002 and know each other very well. ''Bill is a very intense guy,'' Hazell said. ''He's a very good football coach, a great offensive mind and has a passion for the game.''
STEPPING UP ON D
Through eight games in 2014, Illinois was allowing 475.4 yards and 34.4 points a game. Through eight games this season, the Illini are allowing 351.8 yards and 22.6 points.
The Illinois and Purdue campuses are only 108 miles apart, and the series is close as well, with the Illini leading, 43-41-6. Purdue won 38-27 in 2014 in Champaign and has won 11 of the 15 most recent meetings dating back to 1994. The average margin of victory in the last four meetings is 6.25 points.
AP college football website: www.collegefootball.ap.org