Purdue vs Illinois: Battle for the Purdue Cannon


Oct 31, 2015; West Lafayette, IN, USA; Purdue Boilermakers wide receiver Gregory Phillips (20) runs through a tackle by Nebraska Cornhuskers defensive back Aaron Williams (24) as Purdue Boilermakers wide receiver Malcolm Dotson (83) blocks in the second half at Ross Ade Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports

Can the Purdue Boilermakers put together back-to-back wins for the first time since 2012 and retain the Purdue Cannon?

After last week’s 55-45 shootout win over Nebraska, the Purdue Boilermakers (2-6, 1-3 Big Ten) welcome the Illinois Fighting Illini (4-4, 1-3 Big Ten) to Ross-Ade Stadium. This will be another opportunity for the Boilermakers and head coach Darrell Hazell to put some of their demons behind them. It’s been almost three years since fans have witnessed back-to-back Boilermaker victories and multiple Big Ten wins. But Illinois still has a lot to play for, so this won’t be an easy game.

Purdue and Illinois have played each other since 1890, with this matchup being their 91st meeting. The Purdue Cannon – the trophy awarded to the winner – has been used since 1943, and Illinois leads the rivalry with a 43-41-6 record. The Boilers earned their first Big Ten victory since Hazell took over in 2013, last year against the Illini – 38-27 – and have won 11 of the last 15 meetings.

Having a week off seemed to help the Boilermakers regroup and refocus, leading to their second victory of the season and first home conference win under Hazell. So far this year, though, Purdue has failed to maintain any consistency from game to game, so it will be interesting to see if the momentum created from the win over Nebraska will carry over to this game.

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If the momentum does carry over, then the Fighting Illini will have their hands full with Purdue’s quarterback, David Blough.

Blough played lights out last week. He finished 28-of-43 for 274 yards, four touchdowns, and zero turnovers. Had you turned the game on mid-way through, you might have thought you were watching a classic Drew Brees‘ game; it was that good? But that’s also the kind of performance fans and coaches have been waiting to see out of Blough all season, and he will need to replicate it against the Fighting Illini.

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If Blough stumbles, he will have his freshman running back Markell Jones behind him to pick up the slack. It appears D.J. Knox will likely miss this week’s game – his second in a row – so Jones will be the go-to back once again. He didn’t back down to the challenge last week, rushing for 92 and two touchdowns, including the final touchdown to put the game out of reach. The running game – 183 yards against Nebraska, including 82 from Blough – really opened up the passing game for Purdue last week and you can expect the Boilermakers to run a similar gameplan against Illinois.

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The Fighting Illini come to West Lafayette on the heels of being shut out by Penn State, which pushed their losing streak to three. They remain two wins away from becoming bowl eligible but still have to face No. 3 Ohio State, Minnesota, and No. 21 Northwestern. A win against Purdue will be paramount for this Illinois squad if they expect to play in December.

On paper, Purdue and Illinois are not that far apart. Purdue scores more points per game (27.1 to 23.0), but also gives up more points per game (34.4 to 22.6). The offenses are pretty even – Purdue average 363.6 yards per game while Illinois gets 358.0 yards per game – so it’s on the defensive side where we will likely see the game won.

Unlike last week, when the Boilermakers played one of the nation’s worst defenses, the Illini have one of the best – ranked 32nd in total defense on ESPN.com. That won’t bode well for this Purdue offense, but if the Boilermaker defense can step up like they did last week – five turnovers – and give the offense great field position, then they will have a chance to win.

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Purdue doesn’t have much to play for the rest of the way – unless they can pull a miracle and win their last four games, thus becoming bowl eligible. But they still have their pride to play for and now that the players know Hazell will be back next year they can relax, let the game come to them, and earn their third victory of the season.

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