Breath of "Fresh" Air
Hats off to you, Mike Dudek. On a day where not a lot went right for the Illini, Dudek continued to make his mark, despite just being a true freshman.
It's been a while since Illinois had a 200 yard receiver, but Dudek was getting open all day and again led the Illini with 8 catches for 200 yards (25 YPC). For a guy whose only other offer coming out of high school was North Dakota State, Illinois really struck gold with the Naperville product. That being said, he can't do it on his own.
Honorable Mention: Wes Lunt
Wes Lunt went until he couldn't anymore. His presence on the field was felt immediately as he led Illinois on a couple good scoring drives, dropping dimes to Dudek and spreading the ball around. However he wasn't anywhere near 100% and took hit after hit in the second half. Late in the game after a series of hits, he couldn't go anymore and had to bow out in favor of Reilly O'Toole, but Lunt hung in there as long as he could.
Okay, they didn't kick any kickoffs out of bounds and the punting game was solid, but special teams can win and lose games. A missed field goal and a blocked PAT were just some of the struggles this unit has had throughout the course of this year, but after going to their third kicker of the year, walk-on David Reisner, Illinois doesn't have many more options when it comes to getting a placekicker they can depend on.
Now you see him..
Josh Ferguson had a monster game against Texas State. He seemed to start the Nebraska game well with a big run for touchdown, but has disappeared for long stretches of games and isn't running with the same burst through the gaps that he usually has. After a big first quarter today (85 all-purpose yards), Ferguson had a much slower game from that point on. Illinois needs him to remain a threat to take some of the heat off of other playmakers like Dudek and Allison.
Well, if you made it this far, you probably already know what's coming..
The Illinois run defense has just been a disaster this season. Against three BCS opponents (Washington, Nebraska, and now Purdue), Illinois has allowed a combined 1,056 yards.
Let that sink in for a minute.
Coming into this game, Purdue was averaging 136.4 yards per game. The Boilers nearly tripled that mark against Illinois. The Boilermakers steamrolled Illinois for 349 yards on the ground just a week after the Illini gave up 458 yards rushing to Nebraska. With a trip to Camp Randall coming up next weekend, Illinois might quickly descend to the bottom of the rankings nationally in rushing defense faster than you can say "missed tackle."
With the state of the defense and the lack of Big Ten success, it's hard to deny the heat that's coming down on the coaching staff. Tim Beckman has one Big Ten win in 2 and a quarter Big Ten seasons in his tenure at Illinois, and Tim Banks' defense hasn't gotten much better over the last two seasons. Could today's collapse against a sputtering Purdue offense be the straw that broke the camel's back? Only time will tell..