Better play on the offensive line helps Purdue get important win over Illinois
That was the most appropriate word used to describe Purdue’s offense in last week’s 50-7 loss against Maryland. The Boilermakers rushed for just 10 yards, the offensive line gave up five sacks and David Blough completed just 18 of his 41 pass attempts.
So, with both offensive tackles out this week and Purdue’s best offensive weapon – running back Markell Jones – on the sideline, there wasn’t much optimism that this week would bring many changes. Especially against an Illinois defensive line that played extremely well on the road last week in Lincoln.
But college football is weird and a week can make a world of difference.
Even without some of their best offensive weapons, the Boilermakers offense was clicking. Brian Lankford-Johnson and Richie Worship filled the giant shoes of Jones, combining for 187 of the team’s 231 rushing yards. Though he made a critical mistake late in the game, Blough was more accurate, completing 22-of-35 passes for 220 yards.
What was the difference? You don’t have to look further than the guys in the trenches.
Purdue’s offensive line looked like a completely different group than it did against the Terrapins. And that’s a good thing. Against one of the top defensive fronts in the conference, the offensive line had its top performance of the season.
The middle of the field, something the Illini had protected so well against Nebraska, turned into a paved runway for Boilermaker backs. It was an area Purdue was able to exploit early and often, including on this 32-yard TD run from Lankford-Johnson to make the score 14-6:
Opening running lanes for the ball-carriers wasn’t a problem for the offensive line against Illinois. For the game, Purdue averaged 5.6 yards per carry, the highest average it’s had against an FBS opponent in nearly two seasons (6.71 vs. Indiana in 2014).
And what about the pass blocking?
Yeah, that was better, too.
Illinois came into the game averaging 3.25 sacks per game. They didn’t get to Blough one time on Saturday. For the Purdue gunslinger, that was a welcomed improvement after being sacked six times by Maryland a week ago. He was patient, and when receivers weren’t open, he was able to pick up some yardage with his legs rather than getting knocked on his back.
Purdue needed some lucky breaks, for sure. Illini kicker Chase McLaughlin hit the upright on what would’ve been a game-winning kick. And back-up quarterback Chayce Crouch, who had been stellar for most of the game after an injury to Wes Lunt, fumbled the ball in overtime. The Boilermakers wouldn’t have gotten the win without a little good fortune.
But the biggest difference from last week’s 50-7 thumping to this week’s 34-31 OT win was the play up front. Injured and depleted, Purdue was going to have to fire on all cylinders to beat a hungry Illinois team. Everyone stepped up. Especially the guys doing the dirty work on the offensive line.
Go ahead and celebrate, Darrell Hazell. This was a good win for the Boilermakers.
— RedditCFB (@RedditCFB) October 8, 2016