Purdue was not impressive in an early season win over Middle Tennessee, it lost at Rice and was dominated by Notre Dame. But the Boilermakers have gained strength and confidence as the season has gone along, whipping Minnesota and taking Penn State to the wire last week in Happy Valley.
The key to Danny Hope's team is its offensive balance. While they still spread you out like Purdue has done for many years, they have developed a stout running game that is averaging over 200 yards. They rank 24th nationally in rushing offense, while Illinois is 18th in run defense, making this battle one of the keys to the game in West Lafayette Saturday.
Six different running backs have double-digit carries on the year, and six have scored. Thus, no Boilermaker is among the nation's leaders. But junior Ralph Bolden (5'-9", 190) is a potential star. He missed last season with injury but has amassed 370 yards in 70 carries and has scored thrice. He gained 97 yards in just 13 sorties against PSU's powerful defense.
Junior Akeem Shavers (5'-11", 203) gained 57 yards in 13 tries last week and now has 296 yards in 57 carries on the season. He leads the team with 5 rushing touchdowns. Freshman Reggie Pegram (5'-10", 222) is listed third in the pecking order, but freshman Akeem Hunt has a better average per carry.
Averaging over 400 yards a game, the Boilermakers are nearly as good with their passing attack. Starting junior quarterback Caleb Terbush (6'-5", 225) has completed 87 of 142 passes for 949 yards and six touchdowns. He has thrown just four interceptions. He is also a capable runner when called upon, his 45 tries netting 130 yards and a TD. Touted Miami senior transfer Robert Marve (6'-1", 211) may see time also.
Senior receiver Justin Siller (6'-4", 215), a converted quarterback, has the most receptions with 25 for 239 yards. Junior Antavian Edison (5'-11", 175) has caught 20 passes for 326 yards and 2 touchdowns. He has receptions in 14 straight games. Sophomore O.J. Ross (5'-10", 192) has 19 grabs for 201 yards and 2 TD's.
Among other receivers seeing playing time is senior Waynelle Gravesande (6'-0", 192), who is among Big 10 leaders with a 9.5 punt return average while also catching 11 passes. Soph Gary Bush (6'-0", 175) has 10 receptions thus far. Junior Tommie Thomas (6'-1", 195) shares backup time with Gravesande. Crosby Wright (6'-3", 248), a junior, is the favorite tight end receiving target. Gabe Holmes (6'-5", 245) is used more for blocking.
The PU offensive line is experienced at four positions. Left tackle Dennis Kelly (6'-8", 306) and right guard Nick Mondek (6'-5", 307) are seniors. Left guard Peters Drey (6'-6", 310) and center Rick Schmeig (6'-3", 320) are juniors. They are joined by sophomore right tackle Trevor Foy (6'-7", 287).
The defensive line is composed of senior defensive end Gerald Gooden (6'-4", 235) and redshirt freshman Ryan Russell (6'-5", 264), along with junior tackle Kawann Short (6'-3", 310) and sophomore nose guard Bruce Gaston (6'-2", 303), a product of Chicago St. Rita. Short leads the team with 6 tackles for loss, including 1.5 sacks.
The three Purdue linebackers are all among the tackle leaders. Senior Joe Holland (6'-1", 229) leads the team with 43 tackles in 6 games. Junior Dwayne Beckford (6'-1", 228) led the Boilers with 11 tackles against Penn State. Sophomore Will Lucas (5'-11", 226) is 3rd on the team with 37 tackles.
PU has a budding star in the secondary. Sophomore cornerback Ricardo Allen (5'-9", 176) has 2 interceptions so far this season, with one returned 37 yards for a touchdown. His three pick-sixes in just 17 games ties him with former All-American Rod Woodson and linebacker Mike Rose for the school career record.
Others who start in the secondary include junior cornerback Josh Johnson (5'-11", 195), senior strong safety Logan Link (6'-1", 208) and senior free safety Albert Evans (6'-0", 208). Evans is 2nd on the team with 38 tackles.
Purdue also has perhaps the strongest kickers in the Big 10. Sophomore Cody Webster, who had a tryout with the Illini, leads the conference with a 47.8 yard punting average. Senior placekicker Carson Wiggs has hit 9 of 14 field goals this season. The two have combined to down numerous punts inside opponents' red zone, with two at the one yard line.
Freshman kick returner Raheem Mostert (5'11",180) is ranked 13th in country in kick returns with a 28.4 yard average.
Purdue has recruited the South extensively, Florida in particular, so it has improved its team speed tremendously. It has also recruited a number of Illinois products who will be fired up to defeat their state school. With PU's offensive balance and improving defense, the Illini are in for a stern test in West Lafayette.