Rapid Reaction: Purdue fights off comeback from depleted Illinois squad, moves to 2-0
Final Score: Purdue 31, Illinois 24
Brief Recap: Jeff Brohm’s return to the sideline was a happy one for the Boilermakers. After Purdue rallied for a Week 1 win under Brian Brohm, Jeff’s younger brother and acting head coach, the team entered Week 2 with a shot to move to 2-0 for the first time since 2007. Illinois came out fighting hard under head coach Lovie Smith, but the Illini were unable to pull it out. A big reason for the struggles of Illinois is tied to the fact that the team was missing starting quarterback Brandon Peters due to COVID and a host of other players due to contact tracing. The Illini should be commended for their fight and attempt to come back from a 21-point deficit in the second half. It was a commendable performance for a team with their backs against the wall and the odds stacked against them. In the end, a 100-yard rushing performance from Zander Horvath and an extremely efficient outing from QB Aidan O’Connell drove Purdue to the win.
Key Player: Purdue QB Aidan O’Connell was extremely efficient all game long for the Boilermakers. He completed 29 of 35 passes for 371 yards and two touchdowns in the game. It marked the second-highest passing output for O’Connell behind his 408 yards against Indiana last season.
Key Moment: The key moment in the game came at the very end of the third quarter. Purdue had driven deep inside Illinois territory and tried to convert on a fourth-and-goal opportunity. The Illini defense stood tall and was able to get the ball back after holding strong on their own two-yard line. Unfortunately, backup quarterback Coran Taylor fumbled two plays later with Purdue recovering the fumble for a touchdown. That made the score 31-10 and gave the Boilermakers enough cushion to push for the win.
Key Stat: Four, the number of turnovers by Illinois. In all honesty, the Illini stayed in this game longer than they should have been able to. That is thanks to two Boilermakers fumbles, but Illinois had its own mistakes to cope with. Quarterback Coran Taylor had two interceptions and a lost fumble while Mike Epstein also lost a fumble. Add that to two turnover on downs, and there were too many lost chances for Lovie Smith’s squad.
What it means for Purdue: It is not unrealistic for the Boilermakers to wonder if they have a chance to compete for the B1G West title. Two early wins on the season have the team in a good position, and it’s worth investigating how the rest of the division looks. Wisconsin is dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak, and it is unclear who the Badgers will have available if they can play in Week 3. Beyond that, Minnesota is a mess at 0-2. Purdue must take things one game at a time, but this is an absolute best-case scenario after two weeks of the season.
What it means for Illinois: For the Illini, it may be time to start thinking about 2021 and beyond and get some meaningful playing time lined up for young players. With Brandon Peters testing positive, we know he will miss at least 21 days. Illinois also has a list of players that miss Saturday’s game who will also miss Week 3 as a result of contact tracing. That is without even discussing the fact that the Illini are now 0-2 after such a strong season in 2019. While Illinois battled back nicely and kept fighting all game long, 0-2 has the team currently out of the B1G West race and looking for a win.