Illini Need To Play "Electric" At Purdue

The Fighting Illini football team needs to bounce back and defeat Purdue on the Boilermakers' Homecoming Saturday. To do so, it will need to play an inspired game against an opponent gaining confidence weekly. A sound defense and dangerous offense is a definite challenge. The Illini need to put last week's loss behind them to achieve victory.

Illinois head football coach Ron Zook is impressed by Purdue.

"Purdue is going to present a big test for us. We've got to go in there and play the way we're capable of playing."

The Boilermakers are especially potent on offense, where their ability to balance run and pass threatens any defense.

"They do some things differently. Schematically, it would be very similar to Arkansas State with Big Ten players. They're a balanced attack; I mean they're 200 (yards) rushing, 200 (yards) throwing. So a lot of underneath stuff, screens and things like that, although they will go deep.

"Their running back (Ralph Bolden) is a very good running back that we tried to recruit here. Really good back. He was hurt last year, but he's back. He had a little hamstring issue earlier, but he's playing extremely well. Elusive guy, tough guy, a guy that is playing well."

Metamora product Caleb Terbush has won a heated quarterback battle and is managing the offense well.

"He is a big kid that's really kind of come into his own. He was ineligible last year, but he's back this year and playing well. He's doing the things that they're asking him to do.

"As I said, they run a lot of underneath stuff, but they will take their shots and throw it downfield. That's a good offensive staff; those guys do a good job. They're doing a great job of doing the things that their players do well."

Defensive coordinator Vic Koenning is even more emphatic.

"We're gonna have to play lights out Saturday to have a chance to win. Schematically, it's a nightmare to prepare for them. They've got so much different stuff, and they've got good players. It beats me where all those players came from because this is not the team we saw last year.

"I know about the one running back Bolden. I was recruiting him when I was at Clemson. They've got some very skilled kids, and the quarterback's delivering the ball. Their line's big and effective. They're averaging 400 yards and 30 points a game. That pretty much says it all because they're balanced."

Defensive line coach Keith Gilmore echoes those sentiments.

"They mix it up a little bit. It won't be the same type of game like we saw last week. They'll spread us out a little more, but they're very effective. I think it's one of the better offenses we'll face schematically."

Illini defensive end Whitney Mercilus, leading the nation in sacks, explains he and his teammates will have to be disciplined to counter the PU offense.

"They definitely are trying to confuse people with a lot of moving parts like pulling guards, things like that. Some boots here and there. It's just basically reading keys. They have all different looks. On defense, we have to read our keys and be where we're supposed to be.

"We'll be playing more base defense in terms of rushing, blitz packages, stuff like that. We're trying to have everybody fit up and be where they're supposed to be. Their balance makes you stay true to your keys. If you get out of position, they'll embarrass you."

Cornerback Justin Green says pass coverage can be difficult because of the style of offense.

"I don't want to say they're a run-and-shoot team, but they get the ball off quick. We've got to be on our toes. They've got their running back back this year, and that definitely helps them out a whole lot. I think they're more balanced than they were last year."

Illini quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase realizes the Purdue defense is a year more experienced.

"Purdue is a solid team. From an all-around standpoint, they're one of the most solid teams in the Big 10. They don't have a lot of gaping holes or places where they struggle. We've got to come with our hard hats on. They miss Ryan Kerrigan, who was one of the best players in the country last year. But they might be more solid of a defense this year with all the guys they've got back.

"They've got a lot of great athletes, especially on the outside. They have one of the best corners (Ricardo Allen) in our conference and maybe in the country. They play hard, and they play fast. It'll be a fun test."

Offensive coordinator Paul Petrino expects play-calling to be a challenge.

"They change up their fronts and coverages. They like to blitz. They're playing pretty good, running around and playing hard."

Evan Wilson believes there may be opportunities for Illini tight ends.

"They play a lot of man-to-man coverage. We've worked on some things to get us the ball this week. We might have an opportunity this weekend."

Fullback Jay Prosch wants the Illini to attack the Boilermakers, using an aggressive style to control the line of scrimmage and time of possession.

"It basically looks to me like the same defense as last year. I know there are some changes. As long as we come out and execute what we have to do, we should be good."

This will be the Illini's second road game of the year. They won at Indiana, and now they hope to duplicate that feat. Wilson loves to play on the road, and he feels most if not all Illini players agree.

"I love it. I love going away, and I love hearing another team's chants. That really fires me up."

He also speaks for the team regarding returning to winning ways.

"This is the biggest game of the season. Coming off a loss, you really want to show people that you were that good football team the first six weeks of the season."

The Illini will need to play an error-free game against a confident opponent on its home turf. They need to win the turnover battle and maintain their focus throughout. In other words, the same formula as every other week.

Petrino agrees, although he believes winning comes secondary to proper preparation throughout the week.

"As much as anything, this week is about us. It's getting our swagger back, making plays, believing in ourselves, having confidence. The way you have confidence is working hard in preparation."

The Illini have done that, and they believe they are ready to play a complete game.

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