Purdue travels to Illinois for an 11 a.m. kickoff on Saturday.

Fighting the Illinois Fighting Illini: Previewing the Purdue Boilermakers

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With that said, it’s that time of the week where I preview the Illinois football team’s next opponent.

After a dominant win against Indiana last Saturday, Illinois turns its attention to its other rival from the Hoosier State, the Purdue Boilermakers.

Purdue travels to Champaign this weekend to try and score an upset on the road. While Purdue has given Illinois plenty of trouble in the past few meetings, the history means nothing when the two teams take the field on Saturday morning.

The battle for the Purdue Cannon will have extra importance this year as both teams are two wins away from becoming bowl-eligible. For Illinois, this contest is already the second-to-last home game of the season, while the Boilermakers are underdogs in all of their remaining games.

Illinois will need to stay focused this week to ensure that it does not blow what is becoming a promising season.

How Purdue Fared in 2009 and Thus Far This Season

The 2009 Purdue season can be summed up in one word, almost.

The team beat Toledo to start off the year, and then things went down hill.

The Boilers almost beat Oregon in Eugene, coming up barely short in a 38-36 loss.

Purdue was upset by NIU at home and then almost defeated the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame before falling 24-21 on a last-second touchdown.

The Boilermakers would then lose another close game to Northwestern and a not-so-close game to Minnesota.

Before Purdue knew it, it was 1-5.

Then things almost turned around.

Purdue upset the #7 Ohio State Buckeyes at home thanks to a flurry of interceptions thrown by quarterback Terrelle Pryor and proceeded to beat the Illini in West Lafayette.

The Boilermakers almost scored a point against the Wisconsin Badgers, but they turned the ball over on downs both times that they crossed the 50 yard line. Yes, you read that right: Purdue only crossed the 50 yard line twice during the humiliating 37-0 loss.

The Boilermakers almost lost to Michigan but somehow pulled out their first win in Ann Arbor since 1966.  They then almost beat Michigan State until a last second field goal knocked them out of bowl contention.

The Boilermakers almost made a bowl after starting the season 1-5, but as their entire season went, they could not quite cut it.

In 2010, the Boilermakers have made sure not to follow in last season’s footsteps.

Only one of their first seven games has been decided by single digits.

However, they are still only 4-3, losing at both Ohio State and Notre Dame and at home to Toledo.

It is hard to get a good read on the Boilermakers because they have moments of brilliance and moments of utter disaster.

The Boilermakers were shut out by the Buckeyes in a 49-0 rout to avenge last year’s upset, and also lost at home by double digits to Toledo.

Yet Purdue handed Northwestern its only loss of the season (until Michigan State pulled off its comeback in Evanston last Saturday) and leads the Big Ten in sacks and tackles for a loss.

The big problem for the Boilermakers so far this season has been injuries.

The team has lost several starters, including its starting and possible backup quarterback, and has not been able to get into a rhythm.

Illinois must take advantage of the reduced depth chart to keep the Boilermakers on their heels. If the Boilermakers are forced to throw the ball, they are likely to make mistakes.

Illinois – Purdue Series History

The Illinois – Purdue matchup is one of Illinois’ three trophy rivalries. The two teams battle for the Purdue Cannon, a trophy with quite an interesting history.

The two teams have met 85 times, and Illinois leads the rivalry by a close margin of 41-38-6. However, the Boilermakers have won the last 5 games, dating back to 2003. The 5-meeting losing streak is Illinois’ longest current streak against any opponent in the Big Ten Conference.

Illinois has only been within 10 points of the Boilermakers in 1 of the past 5 games.

Illinois holds the longest win streak in the series with 6 straight wins from 1906-1911, but a Purdue win this Saturday would tie that record.

The Illini will aim to stop the Boilermakers streak while Illinois head coach Ron Zook looks to notch his first win against Purdue.

The Boilermakers are the only Big Ten team Zook has yet to defeat.

Key Matchups

Mikel Leshoure vs. the Purdue Defensive Line

While the Boilermakers are suffering from injuries in many areas, the defensive line is not one of them.

The Boilermakers lead the Big Ten in tackles for a loss, and Leshoure has struggled his last two games, failing to pass 90 rushing yards both times after starting the season with 110+ yards in 4 of the first 5 matchups.

With backup running back Jason Ford hurt from the Indiana game, Leshoure has even more weight on his shoulders. He will need to get positive yardage consistently to make sure any third downs are short and manageable.

Illinois Offensive Line vs. Purdue Pass Rush

Purdue also leads the Big Ten in sacks, recording 20 so far this season.

Illinois will likely run the ball more than it did against Indiana, but when it does decide to throw, the offensive line must protect redshirt freshman quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase so he is not rushed into making bad passes.

Scheelhaase also needs to know when to scramble out of the pocket and when to stay put and throw from inside the protection.

Corey Liuget and Martez Wilson vs. Purdue’s Quarterback

While it is still not known who will be Purdue’s starting quarterback, it is for sure going to be a freshman.

Freshman Rob Henry, who has been starting in place of injured quarterback Rob Marve (out for the season), hurt his hand against the Buckeyes.

If he does not start, the quarterback will be freshman Sean Robinson.

Either way, Illinois’ two leading sackers need to get pressure on the Purdue quarterback so that the defense can produce a big showing following a brilliant performance against Indiana.

Three Illini Players to Watch

Running Back Mikel Leshoure

Leshoure has been slowed in the last two games thanks to increased attention from opposing defenses and less field in front of him as a result of good starting position.

This weekend, Leshoure needs to get back on track and have another 100+ yard game to keep Purdue honest and stop the Boilermakers from constantly blitzing Scheelhaase.

Linebacker Martez Wilson

Wilson leads the team in tackles, fumbles forced, and blocked kicks. He is doing a great job calling coverage from the middle linebacker position and is finally having the kind of season he was predicted to have after failing to play up to some people’s expectations in his first few years.

Wilson will be key for an Illini defense that aims to get one win closer to a bowl game.

Eddie McGee

McGee saw some action at the quarterback position when Illinois ran the wildcat package last weekend.

After throwing two picks against SIU earlier in the season, McGee did much better against the Hoosiers.

Although McGeee did not throw the ball at all, he took four snaps at the quarterback and ran all four for positive yardage.

McGee should see more action under center this weekend as Illinois tries to protect Scheelhaase from the Purdue pass rush, and it will be important that he does not turn the ball over and give Purdue extra chances.

Alright.

Until tomorrow and the Thursday Cram Session (and hopefully some pictures).

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