CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- In a return to his home state, Purdue quarterback Aidan O’Connell once again proved he might’ve deserved a football scholarship coming out of high school.
O’Connell, who set school records for passing yardage in a season (2,741), touchdown passes in a season (26) and passing yardage in a game (447) at Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, Ill., hardly made a mistake in a 31-24 victory over the overmatched home state Illinois squad Saturday.
O’Connell, who ended his high school career with just one scholarship Division II scholarship offer (Division II Davenport University in Michigan) was the second straight quarterback to carve up this Illini secondary as he ended 29 for 35 for 371 yards and two touchdowns in the Boilermakers fifth straight win in Champaign Saturday.
Illinois (0-2) simply had trouble keeping a healthy quarterback active as a positive COVID-19 test to starting quarterback Brandon Peters immediately made him, the projected starting center (Doug Kramer) and the projected backup quarterback (Isaiah Williams) out due to contact tracing. After the first series of the game, the Illinois starter (Matt Robinson) was forced to leave the game after suffering a right foot injury and Coran Taylor, who began the season and the week of preparation as the fourth-string option got his first significant action of his college career.
With so many options missing from behind center, the Illini offense had trouble getting any momentum early in game where they were already a touchdown underdog before the COVID-19 health outbreak on the team.
Taylor, who is more of a running option and had been previously running the opponent’s playbook his entire three-year career as the scout-team quarterback, had a roller coaster ride in his first significant playing time in college. The Peoria native had 305 total yards (273 passing and 32 rushing) but also four turnovers. The last time Taylor saw major time on the Memorial Stadium turf was his junior year of high school. Taylor passed for 215 yards and two touchdowns along with running for 134 yards and three touchdowns in a 62-48 win for Peoria High School in the IHSA Class 5A state title game over Vernon Hills.
The last time an Illinois offense had four or more turnovers in a game was Tim Beckman’s first season in 2012 when the Illini had six giveaways in a 52-24 loss to Louisiana Tech.
The Illinois pass defense allowed for a second-straight 300-yard performance through the air and O’Connell didn’t have an incomplete pass until deep into the second quarter as he was able to consistently find open receivers down the middle of the field.
The Illini had a chance, only down seven with three minutes to go in the game, to send the game into overtime but four straight incomplete passes from inside the Purdue 15-yard-line gave the Cannon Trophy back to the rivals from West Lafayette.
Purdue (2-0) will open its league slate with two consecutive wins for the first time in a decade and is slated to play Wisconsin next weekend but the Badgers’ issues with a COVID-19 outbreak has put that matchup in jeopardy. Illinois will host Minnesota in a game featuring a pair of 0-2 teams for a 2:30 p.m. kickoff on BTN.