Illinois at Purdue
Date/Time/Place: Saturday, Oct. 25, 2019: 11 a.m. CST, Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette, Ind.
Surface: Natural Grass
Records: Illinois 3-4, 1-3 in 2019, 4-8, 2-7 in 2018; Purdue 2-5, 1-3 in Big Ten Conference, 6-7, 5-4 in 2018
Line: Purdue by 9.5
Series notes: The all-time series is tied 44-44-6. Purdue has won three straight meetings since Illinois blew out the Boilermakers 48-14 in West Lafayette in 2015. Illinois and Purdue will play for the coveted Cannon rivalry trophy. Purdue leads the traditional trophy series by a 36-28-2 mark. Purdue has won 14 of the last 19 matchups in the series dating back to 1994.
TV: BTN; Lisa Byington (PBP), J Leman (analyst) and Elise Menaker (sidelines)
Radio (Illinois): Brian Barnhart (PBP), Martin O’Donnell (analyst), Michael Martin (sidelines) & Steve Kelly (Pre/HT/Post) - The broadcast can be heard live on TuneIn online radio, Sirius (99)/XM (207) satellite radio & SiriusXM Internet (967), and at FightingIllini.com.
Purdue’s running game vs. Illinois run defense
Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm said Monday that he'd prefer his offense have more balance, which is interesting because his program ranks 129th among 130 Football Bowl Subdivision programs in rushing yards per game. Brohm has also said in the past that his style will never be a 50/50 option between the pass and run. If Purdue is going to run success on the ground the responsibility will rest directly on the freshman shoulders of King Deroue. The former three-star prospect from Amarillo, Texas hasn't cracked the 100-yard total and have found very little creases to crack big runs in front of a struggling offensive line that is by any definition a work in progress. Illinois is 103rd in FBS in rushing defense but is coming off a performance last week when they contained one of the best rushing attacks in the nation to 156 yards, which was 79 yards below Wisconsin's season average. On a day where the weather in West Lafayette suggests rain will persist throughout the day, Purdue is going to have to find ways to have success on the ground. Illinois, which leads the country in forced fumbles, has veterans in the middle of the defense (two DTs, two LBs and strong safety) and seem to have found a consistent path to success on first and second downs. The Illini are ninth in FBS in tackles for loss.
Edge: Illinois, by a small margin
Purdue passing game vs. Illinois pass defense
Jack Plummer has thrown only one interception in his last three starts and the redshirt freshman looks to be building confidence in an offense that requires the quarterback be in control at all times. One of the biggest mysteries of this game is which cornerback Lovie Smith will put on the emerging freshman talent named David Bell. Bell is second among all Big Ten Conference receivers in yards per game and is the only freshman in the conference's top 17. The most interesting matchup could be how Smith strategically tries to take away the tight end safety blanket in the middle of the field. Brycen Hopkins, who is the son of former Illini offensive lineman Brad Hopkins, recorded career highs with 10 receptions for 140 yards against Maryland on Oct. 12. This was most receptions and receiving yards by a Purdue tight end since Tim Stratton in 2001 against Washington State and Dustin Keller in 2007 against Central Michigan. With Rondale Moore and Jared Sparks out with injuries, Plummer is going to need to find Hopkins in Smith's Cover-2 scheme but Washington transfer Milo Eifler will likely be given opportunities to handle him one-on-one.
Illinois running game vs. Purdue run defense
The key for the Illini in this game is to either A) get big plays in the run game or B) get a consistent three to four yards on first down. Illinois is 89th in FBS in rushing offense but is in the Top 50 in running plays of 10 yards or more. The feast or famine results in the run game this season is a the reason why Illini offensive coordinator Rod Smith continues to be frustrated by his team's 34.74 percent conversion rate on third down. With Purdue defensive coordinator Nick Holt continuing to be an aggressive play-caller, the Illini will need to use the combination of Reggie Corbin, Dre Brown and Ra'Von Bonner to catch Purdue in blitzes with runs down the middle of the field. Purdue will continue to be without defensive tackle Lorenzo Neal due to an offseason surgery. Defensive tackle Anthony Watts and linebacker Cornel Jones will be game-time decisions to determine their status. If Illinois can reach three yards per carry on first down and around 170 yards on the ground Saturday, they'll win this road game.
Illinois passing game vs. Purdue pass defense
The key for this category will be the ability of the offensive line in keeping quarterback Brandon Peters upright so he can find open receivers. The one issue Purdue has had this season is allowing big plays in the passing game as the Boilermakers are second-worst in the nation in allowing passing plays of 20 yards or more (35). Of the nine completions against Wisconsin's No. 1 ranked defense last weekend, six of Peters' successful pitch and catches went for at least 14 yards. When you give Peters time to find receivers, the Michigan transfer and former Indiana Mr. Football selection will likely find Josh Imatorbhebhe and/or Ricky Smalling in one-on-one matchups. The issue will be Nick Holt loves to blitz, mostly with his safeties and leave his corners on an island but Illinois may have a matchup advantage if they can block the blitz. The problem for the Illini is they're the worst in the Big Ten in allowing sacks (25 in seven games).
Blake Hayes responded well from a miserable performance against Michigan with two punts of 50 yards or more and downing one punt inside the 10-yard-line. James McCourt, the hero of the upset against Wisconsin, admittedly has a mental dysfunction about field goals from what would be considered the normal difference. He is 3-of-6 on field goals from 30 to 49 yards but is 3-for-3 from 50 yards and beyond. McCourt's shortest make of the season is the 39-yard game-winner over No. 6 Wisconsin as time expired. Purdue's J.D. Dellinger has made four of his last five field goals and is a perfect 7-of-7 on kicks of 20 to 39 yards out. Purdue has utilized three different punters this season (Brooks Cormier, along with walk-on players Zac Collins and Danny Corollo) but the key for the Boilermakers is the loss of Rondale Moore in the kick and punt return game.
Purdue desperately needs this home win to give itself any chance at a third-straight bowl game. Brohm stressed that this time of the year always involves some "urgency" and his team is scrambling through a nightmare of a 2019 campaign that is defined by injuries to key personnel on both sides of the ball. Illinois is coming off the program's best and most miraculous win in a decade. This is the game that will show whether Lovie Smith's program can stress two wins in a row and prove they can relatively turn a corner on not only this 2019 season but his tenure with the Illini. What I feel like will be key in this game, with constant rain falling, is the Illini defense being able to continually create turnover opportunities Saturday.
Want to know why Boilermakers head coach Jeff Brohm is worth the $6.6 million that his school is reportedly paying him this season? He is using a redshirt freshman quarterback (Jack Plummer), doesn't have one of the nation's most dynamic athletes (Rondale Moore), no consistent running game and one of the poorest offensive line groups in the Big Ten. The result? Purdue isn't close to the worst offense in the league and is actually ninth in scoring, 10th in total offense and still leads the conference in passing offense (324.8 yards per game). Lovie Smith has been dealing all week with the thing that all coaches hate: constant congratulations and player appreciation by fans. A letdown is inevitable in this game for the Illini because if it doesn't happen, then the turnaround Smith has been pressing for has finally come. If Illinois doesn't start fast in this road game that Purdue desperately needs, it is hard to see the Illini pulling off another comeback win like they did last week against Wisconsin and tried to accomplish two weeks ago vs. Michigan.
Purdue 28, Illinois 24