Purdue @ Illinois: Preview

The University of Illinois celebrates Senior Day as its football team hosts the Purdue Boilermakers at Memorial Stadium this Saturday. Illinisports reminds fans of the importance of thanking the seniors playing their last home game while preparing for a major struggle with another quality team.

The Fighting Illini football team looks to get back into the win column as the Purdue Boilermakers visit Memorial Stadium Saturday. After three straight tough matchups with Big Ten teams possessing outstanding defenses, the Illini look forward to competing with someone a little closer to their own development level.

This will be no easy game for the Illini as the entire Big Ten is tough again this year. And five straight losses have undoubtedly taken their toll on the Illini psyche even though they are likely encouraged with the quality of their recent play. But Illinois is a team on the rise, and continued improvement gives them a fighting chance against the Boilermakers.

Purdue has six wins on the season and needs just one more over their last three games to become bowl eligible. With this much riding on the game's outcome, Purdue will likely take the Illini game seriously. And they are buoyed by a quality come-from-behind victory at Michigan State last week.

Purdue under coach Joe Tiller is known for its spread offense, and quarterback Curtis Painter is beginning to hit on all cylinders. Against the Spartans, Painter enjoyed a lofty 70% pass completion percentage, with his bevy of receivers benefitting from the accuracy. Dorien Bryant is a speed merchant who is his go-to receiver, but others share the fun.

Illinois is familiar with defending the spread as its defense practices against a similar offense all the time. Since Purdue uses the pass to set up the run, outside linebacker Brit Miller may not see much playing time as Illinois will use its nickel package frequently to cover all the receivers Purdue will throw at them. As always, the key to limiting the spread offense is a good pass rush, so the Illini will need to vary their blitz packages and slants to confuse the Boilermaker offensive linemen and get pressure on Painter. It will also help if the Illini secondary can keep the receivers in front of them and gather in a few interceptions.

Purdue struggled defensively at the beginning of the year, in part due to youthful inexperience. But the Boilers have really improved in recent weeks and now have the confidence to compete against all their Big Ten brethren. Their most publicized defender may be defensive end Anthony Spencer, an aggressive player with a non-stop motor. He will likely give Illini offensive tackles another major challenge.

Purdue is aware of Juice Williams' running ability and the threat he poses on the option. But they may not be overly concerned about the Illini passing game. Free safety Brandon Ewing responded to a question about Juice, "He's an athletic, shifty guy, we've got to be ready for that. He's not that much of a threat to us in the passing game."

It is hoped Juice and his offensive teammates take this to heart and focus on proving Ewing wrong. This must start with Juice himself. He must dedicate himself to staying within the framework of the offense and accept the short routes that open quickly in front of him.

Hitting a long bomb might be romantic and exciting when successful, but moving the chains improves the chances of scoring and gaining field position. The offensive line must come to play every possession, and the receivers must gain separation from defenders and catch balls thrown in their vicinity. But Juice is the key to offensive execution. The quick strike touchdowns will come, but focusing on using touch and hitting every pass is far more conducive to victories.

The Illini need to remember all they have learned through the season while forgetting the frustrations of losing. If they do this, their offense can come together and give the Boilers a game. Spreading the field will help open up the running game, and mixing run and pass can keep Purdue on its heels.

But completing a high percentage of passes is a must if victory is to be achieved. For all his potential, and for all the excitement he has generated to this point, Juice Williams must now commit to a goal of completing all his passes. He will be much improved next year and even more the following years. But improvement this year is the most important goal.

Illinois' defense is riding high after its shutdown of the juggernaut Ohio State offense last week. But it will struggle against Purdue if it rests on its laurels and doesn't come to play. Illini defenders must use the same constant aggressiveness, reckless abandon and gang tackling that has aided them up to now. Otherwise, Purdue's "basketball on grass" will eat them alive.

This may be a high scoring game. Purdue can score against anyone, so Illinois will need to score frequently to win. Limiting Purdue with good defense and special teams play to force them into long drives to score is a must. This will require a total team effort including the kickers and kick returners. We cannot expect Illinois to score at will since it is using so many young players, so it is essential to keep Purdue out of the end zone as much as possible. If Illinois can't do that, it could be a long day for them.

The Illini have accomplished much this year. They are no longer a team to be ridiculed or ignored but are competitive against anyone, and there is great promise for the future. The next step is to win some games. Illinois is tied for last place in the Big Ten right now, so all they have achieved up to now might be for naught if they can't get over the hump and win one or two more games this year. It is time to put everything together and provide a total team effort to battle a strong Purdue team and find a way to attain a victory.

We hope all Illini fans trek to Memorial Stadium this Saturday to give emotional support for their team. The team needs our help to keep their excitement level high and their focus squarely on the task at hand. And since it is Senior Day, it is important to congratulate those players who are suiting up for their last home game.

Pierre Thomas, E. B. Halsey, Matt Maddox, Alan Ball, Josh Norris, Tim Brasic, Sharriff Abdullah, Arthur Boyd, and Adam Wilk haven't won many games, but a victory in their last home game would give them a positive memory as they leave the University. They have worked hard to make Illinois a winner, and they can see great promise for a future in which they can only participate as alumni. It would be great if their hard work and dedication as loyal Illini could be rewarded.

Go Illini!!!

Illinisports, illinisports@illiniboard.com

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