Boilermakers are riding high after defeating Iowa in last week's opener
Just like that, it's already Week 2 of the 2020 Big Ten college football season. And on this week's docket is a game between the Purdue Boilermakers and Illinois Fighting Illini, two teams needing a win for very different reasons.
The Fighting Illini (0-1) are picking up the pieces after a 45-7 loss at Wisconsin to open the season last Friday. It was the third time in the last five meetings that the Badgers scored 40 or more points against Illinois.
They'll be hosting a Purdue (1-0) team that defeated Iowa at home last Saturday for its first season-opening victory since 2016. After trailing Iowa 17-14 at halftime, the Boilermakers held the Hawkeyes scoreless in the third and then limited them to just a field goal in the fourth to secure the 24-20 victory. Even more impressive is the fact the Boilermakers defeated the Hawkeyes without their best player, wide receiver Rondale Moore, and head coach Jeff Brohm (recovering from COVID-19) wasn't on the sidelines either. Now Purdue looks for back-to-back wins to start the season for the first time since 2007.
The Illini need a win to put their postseason aspirations back in motion, while the Boilermakers want to build off what they accomplished last week. The head-to-head series between these Big Ten West rivals also is incredibly tight, with Illinois leading 45-44-6 thanks to last year's 24-6 victory in Champaign. The Illini haven't beaten Purdue in back-to-back games since 2001-02.
Purdue at Illinois
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 31 at 12 p.m. ET
Spread: Purdue -6.5
When Purdue Has the Ball
Aidan O'Connell led the way in the win over Iowa with 282 passing yards and three touchdowns. He did toss two interceptions, but the coaching staff wasn't afraid to let O'Connell air it out (completed 31-of-50 attempts). Wide receiver David Bell stepped up in Rondale Moore's absence and piled up 13 catches for 121 yards and all three of O'Connell's touchdown passes. Milton Wright also got in on the act with seven grabs for 85 yards. On the ground, Zander Horvath led the Boilermakers by gashing Iowa for 129 yards on 21 carries (6.1 ypc).
Purdue showed balance and was efficient against Iowa, and it proved that this offense can still be a threat without their top player. On the other side, Wisconsin gutted Illinois for 430 yards while also taking a balanced approach (248 yards passing, 182 rushing). The Boilermakers can put themselves in the driver's seat if they can have similar success against the Illini, especially if Moore is back in the lineup. But it must be noted that Illinois' lone touchdown against the Badgers was scored by the defense.
When Illinois Has the Ball
At the moment, it's all about quarterback Brandon Peters after accounted for nearly three-quarters of the Illini's offense against the Badgers. He only completed eight passes for 87 yards, but he was the leading rusher as he accounted for 75 of his team's 131 yards on the ground. Illinois was held without an offensive touchdown, and nine of their possessions ended in five plays or fewer. This was a far cry from the scrappy team that pushed itself to a bowl game last year. Peters can't do it all by himself, so the rest of this offense needs to step up.
Of course, that will be easier said than done against a Boilermaker defense that stood its ground last week. They limited the Hawkeyes to just a field goal in the second half, had two takeaways, and made sure to limit the damage on the scoreboard despite giving up 460 total yards. Purdue will look for better results against the run as Iowa put up 195 yards on 34 carries (5.6 ypc), and that was the one thing Illinois did somewhat successfully (5.2 ypc vs. Wisconsin) in the opener.
Illinois won last year's matchup, but Purdue has won the other three meetings since Lovie Smith took over at Illinois in 2016. And unless the Illini can improve on defense and get it together on offense, the Boilermakers will start the season 2-0.
Prediction: Purdue 21, Illinois 13
Podcast: Week 9 Preview and Predictions
— Gabe Salgado is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He's a news anchor/producer for WGN Radio. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.