When: Sat. Oct. 8, 2016; 3:30 p.m. ET
Where: Champaign, Ill.; Memorial Stadium (60,670)
All-Time Series: Purdue leads (33-29-2)
Last Meeting: Illinois Win; 48-14 (2015)
Line: Illinois (-10)
One program is trying to prove it made the right hire, the other just trying to survive after a bad loss in its last game. Which team — Illinois or Purdue — am I talking about in each scenario.
As the Boilermakers and Illini go to battle for the 92nd time in their series history, we are facing two teams a crossroads. For Purdue, this is a must-win game if the players want to help their coach keep his slim (more like none) chances of keeping his job alive. For Illinois this game is a chance to prove it can beat anyone in the Power 5 realm.
That didn’t happen the last time out, as Illinois was spanked at home by a very good Western Michigan program. But, Purdue is a far cry from Western Michigan and the Illini program needs something positive to take away from a crazy first year for head coach Lovie Smith.
Which narrative will win out? Let’s examine this matchup.
1 Burning Question: Did You Know This is a Rivalry Game?
No seriously, I’ve been covering the Big Ten for four years and been a fan of college football my entire life and I never knew this game was a rivalry or involved a trophy.
Alas, the mighty Illinois-Purdue rivalry is known as “the battle for the Cannon” and the trophy looks like this:
It was a trophy introduced to the series back in 1943, but it dates back to the 1905 game at the old Illinois football field. During that game, Purdue fans tried to sneak a cannon to celebrate an expected victory. Purdue won 29-0, but were never able to fire the cannon as an Illinois student spotted it in a culvert and removed it before the Boilermakers fans could anything with it.
The cannon sat in storage until the series resumed after a 12-year absence in 1943.
So burn that in to your memory as these two teams battle it out for the title of “we’re not the worst team in the Big Ten” this weekend.
2 Key Stats:
— 8: That is the number of times the Illini have won in the last 11 meetings between these two programs. During that time we’ve seen both of these programs at the top and bottom of the B1G, yet it has been the Illini dominating the series no matter where these two teams ranked in the conference pecking order. That has to be troubling news for the road team in this one.
— 140.9: That is the Illini rushing average per game. It also is the average that puts the team just 10th in the Big Ten. It isn’t as if the Illini don’t have talent at the position either, with both Ke’Shawn Vaughn and Kendrick Foster possessing good skills, but the line is a mess in front of them. Maybe this is the game things turn around a bit, as Illinois is facing a Purdue defense that is next to last in the conference (226.5) in rushing defense.
3 Key Players:
David Blough, Purdue QB: Blough has been good about getting yards, but he has had an issue with interceptions this year and throughout his career. This week, Blough will be going up against one of the statistically better passing defenses in the Big Ten. Illinois comes in to this game allowing 202.5 yards per game, but have surrendered only three touchdowns in four games so far this season. If Purdue wants to win this game, Blough has to be on the positive side of the TD to INT ratio for once.
Kendrick Foster, Illinois RB: It may be an interesting battle between running games in this one, but only one of the three main running backs in this game possesses true game-breaking ability and that is Foster. He leads the Illini in rushing despite having just 25 carries to Ke’Shawn Vaughn’s 41 carries, while also averaging just a shade over 8 yards per carry as well. The best way to beat Purdue is to jump on them early with big plays, and Foster is the big play player for U of I.
Carol Phillips, Illinois DE: Most people won’t be able to name a single player on either of these defenses, but you should know the name of Phillips, because he’s been an absolute beast to open the season. He is second on the team in tackles with 22, but has an impressive 10 tackles for loss, 4.0 sacks and a quarterback hurry in just four games. Want to know how Illinois is doing defensively, check to see if you are hearing Phillips’ name or not. If so, chances are Purdue is in major trouble. If not, Purdue is doing it right on offense.
4 Staff Predictions:
Andy: Illinois 41-21
Dave: Illinois 27-10
Phil H.: Illinois 27-17
Philip R-R.: Illinois 21-17
Zach: Illinois 31-17