Know Thine Enemy: Illinois Fighting Illini


Saturday is fast approaching, which is a good thing for college football fans. Maybe not so much for Purdue Boilermaker fans, but for those who get to cheer on winning programs, Saturday is one of the happiest days of the week. This week the Boilermakers travel to Champaign, Ill. to take on the Illinois Fighting Illini in a Big Ten battle for the Purdue Canon.

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The Illini sit a 3-2 (0-1 Big Ten) and have won only one Big Ten matchup in their previous nine tries; that lone victory coming against the Boilermakers last season. Last week’s Big Ten opener against No. 21 Nebraska did not go so well for the Illini as they got demolished 45-14. It was the second game this year that Illinois gave up 40-plus points and the fourth straight game that they’ve given up 30-plus points.

Despite their atrocious defense, the Illini’s offense has found a way to outscore their opponent. Led by sophomore Wes Lunt, Illinois has scored 25-plus points in their three victories and less than 20 points in their two losses. Lunt sat out last week against Nebraska after suffering a sprained knee ligament against Texas State in Week 4. In the four games Lunt has played this season, the Illini are 3-1 and averaged 35 points per game and he’s also played very well in those games.

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Lunt is expected to play this week, so the Boilermakers secondary will have their hands full if the defensive line is unable to get much pressure up front.

When it comes to running, the Illini are led by junior Josh Ferguson who has rushed for 377 yards and four touchdowns, and has caught 15 passes for 154 yards and two touchdowns. But Ferguson’s numbers were pumped up just a bit after their game against Texas State. Ferguson finished that game with 190 rushing yards, 43 receiving yards and three total touchdowns.

Illinois ranks 24th in the nation in passing yards (309.4 yards per game), 114th in rushing yards (102.2 yards per game) and 74th in points scored (29.0 points per game).

Defensively it’s up in the air on how the Illini are going to play. They rank 104th nationally, allowing 35 points per game, but the Purdue offense is a hot mess right now and scoring 35 points would be a GREAT day for the Boilermakers.

Sep 20, 2014; Champaign, IL, USA; Texas State Bobcats tight end Ryan Carden (84) catches a pass during the game between the Illinois Fighting Illini and the Texas State Bobcats at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

Against the pass, the Illinois defense ranks 69th nationally (239.0 yards per game). At the moment they have no idea who they will be facing as the Boilermakers are starting to have a quarterback controversy with Danny Etling struggling this season and fans calling for his benching. If Etling does start, the Illini will have an easy chance to add to their 12 team sacks as the Boilermakers are allowing 2.4 sacks per game.

The Purdue rushing game is also influx right now, with Raheem Mostert not getting a single carry last game while Akeem Hunt and Keyante Green ran for a combined 110 yards. This might be a good thing for the Illini as they give up an average of 229.6 rushing yards per game, a number Purdue has only come close to once this season – Week 1 against Western Michigan when they ran for 226 total yards.

Illinois is better than Purdue, there is little doubt about that, but what kind of game we see Saturday is in doubt. Either Purdue’s offense shows up and it’s a close game, or Purdue’s offense doesn’t show up and Illinois blows them out like they’re a FCS school.