Purdue looks to continue strong start vs. Illinois
No Rondale Moore? No Jeff Brohm? No problem, at least not for Purdue in its season-opening game.
Minus their star receiver and head coach, the Boilermakers rallied from a 20-14 fourth-quarter deficit to stop visiting Iowa 24-20.
Now Purdue (1-0, 1-0 Big Ten) aims for another win in a late-morning kickoff Saturday at Illinois, and the odds are good that at least Brohm will be back. The status for Moore, who caught a whopping 114 passes as a freshman in 2018, then sat out the final eight games last year with a hamstring injury, is murky at best.
Moore opted out of the season when the Big 10 Conference announced it wouldn’t play in the fall, then decided to return when the league changed its plans and slated the season to start in October. However, Moore was declared out of last week’s game about 24 hours before kickoff due to an undisclosed injury.
Asked about Moore’s situation for this week, Brohm said, “We’re always hopeful, and we’ll see what happens during the week.”
Regardless of Moore’s availability, the Boilermakers have to like their chances to create chunk yardage in the passing game against the Fighting Illini. While Purdue started with a good win over a traditionally solid program, Illinois (0-1, 0-1) barely managed a whimper in a 45-7 loss at Wisconsin on Oct. 23.
Of all the lowlights — no points on offense, just 218 total yards and no big plays in the kicking game — the pass defense stood out in a bad way. The Illini allowed Badgers redshirt freshman Graham Mertz to complete 20 of 21 passes for 248 yards and five touchdowns in his first college start.
For a team boasting 25 seniors and feeling as if it could finally stack up with most conference teams on a weekly basis, the game was quite a comedown.
“When you make an effort like that,” Illinois coach Lovie Smith said, “you can’t wait to play as soon as possible. We’re a lot better than that. We are not as far along as I hoped we would be, but we still have time to get better.”
Getting better for the Illini starts with finding a coverage scheme that will keep Boilermakers wide receiver David Bell from carving them up. Bell caught 13 passes for 121 yards and three scores against Iowa, including the 6-yard game-winner from Aidan O’Donnell with 2:15 remaining.
It was a continuation of 2019 for Bell, who grabbed 86 passes for 1,035 yards en route to Big 10 Freshman of the Year honors. He has at least 100 yards in each of his last four games dating back to last year.
Illinois must also find a way to sustain drives and finish them with points. There were some decent chunk plays, but there were far too many zero or negative-yardage plays along the way. It was a surprisingly poor performance by a group of offensive linemen with 130 career starts among them.
This will be the 96th all-time meeting of the schools. The Illini’s 24-6 win last year gave them a 45-44-6 edge in the series.
–Field Level Media