Under Pressure

The Illini look to bounce back in a must-win game as they host the Purdue Boilermakers this weekend. A healthy Wes Lunt should help.

Just a few years ago, Tim Beckman and Darrell Hazell were facing off in the MAC when they were at Toledo and Kent State, respectively. The two missed each other by a year at Ohio State with Hazell being with the Buckeyes in 2004 and Beckman in 2005.

Both coaches experienced success in the MAC with their respective programs, however the Big Ten hasn't been as kind to the two, who have a combined coaching record of 12-34 overall and just one Big Ten win to 27 conference losses between the two of them (someone had to win last year's matchup).

Both teams have highly-touted quarterbacks and speedy running backs, but optimism, albeit guarded, is higher at Illinois, at least on the offensive side of the ball.

The defense is another story. After last week's manhandling of the Illinois defense by Nebraska, the Illini need to prove that they can move on and forget that it ever happened. Purdue has two speedy and shifty backs who each have big play ability in Raheem Mostert and Akeem Hunt.

Purdue's defense ranks 66th nationally in both rush and pass defense, but they will focus on the pass in an effort to take away Illinois' strongest offensive weapons.

If one unit for the Illini has been consistently good, it's been the wide receivers. Junior Geronimo Allison and and Freshman Mike Dudek have led the way for the Illini receivers so far. Justin Hardee, Martize Barr, and Jon Davis have all made contributions, but Illinois has had the most success when getting the ball to those two playmakers.

For Purdue, Danny Etling has held onto the starting job and held off fellow QB Austin Appleby, however plenty of Purdue fans are wondering if true freshman David Blough might be the guy going forward.

Josh Ferguson, who had 190 rushing yards just two games ago against Texas State, had a couple big runs against Nebraska but was relatively quiet otherwise. Ferguson establishing more consistency as a runner would give the Illini a much needed boost and help the passing game immensely.

Keys to the Game

Probably the most important matchup in this game will be the Illinois linebackers against the Purdue running backs. With DT Teko Powell out yet another week, a solid number of run plays are likely to get to the second level, and the Illinois linebackers have struggled to hold the edge this year. If Purdue's speedy backs are able to get to the outside, they could be chasing the endzone more than usual.


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