Purdue’s performance boiling

By Derek Barichello

It is bad timing for the Illini to travel to West Lafayette, Ind., to take on Purdue.

The Boilermakers (3-6, 1-5) are starting to turn it around. After losing their first five, they won their first conference game of the season last weekend against Michigan State, 28-21. The week before that Purdue showed signs against No. 6 Penn State losing 33-15 in a game that was closer than the score indicated. And the week before that, they held a late lead before No. 19 Wisconsin came back to win, 31-20.

“We’re hitting a Purdue football team that’s probably beginning to get back to where everybody thought it was going to be at the beginning of the season,” said Illinois head coach Ron Zook. “So it’s going to be important that we go over there and give a great effort.”

The Boilermakers have not lived up to expectations this season. They started the season ranked No. 13 and returned seven upperclassmen on offense and eight upperclassmen on defense from a Sun Bowl team from a year ago.

Saturday happens to be Senior Day, and 17 Purdue seniors will play their last game at Ross-Ade Stadium. Running back Jerod Void said it would be nice to go out with a win.

“It definitely sneaks up on you how fast college goes by,” Void said. “It’s important to keep getting better each week, practice hard and finish strong, even if you’re a senior.”

Coming into the season, it was the defense that was highly touted. The Boilermakers were among the top in the Big Ten in every defensive statistic, but this season they are giving up 32.4 points and 462.1 yards per game.

Head coach Joe Tiller was happy with last week’s performance, holding the Spartans, who average over 40 points a game, to 21.

“I think the reason we’re beginning to play better defensively is because of the move of Ray Williams to cornerback,” Tiller said. “I think the biggest difference between the game against Michigan State and previous games was that we made some plays in the secondary.”

One factor in the defense’s poor play is the lack of offensive help. Last season, Purdue was lead by now-Chicago Bears quarterback Kyle Orton, and this season, the Boilermakers have scrambled to find a suitable replacement, with the offense averaging 28.0 points.

Tiller started the season with Brandon Kirsch as the main guy, but after Kirsch’s poor play, he has turned to Curtis Painter, who won the starting position last week.

“For whatever reason, they’ve made a change there, and that’s a scary thing,” Zook said. “He’s got a very quick release. He’s a big guy, six-foot-four. I don’t know that he’s necessarily a running back, but he’s a big strong guy. They’ve added the option here the past few weeks.”

Zook said he is prepared for Purdue to spread the Illini defense out.

“It’s an offense that when you look at it, you might think that they’re going to spread it out and throw the football all over the place,” Zook said. “Just from watching, I get the feeling that they want to be able to run the football, 50-50. They’re going to run the football, and they do a nice job of running the football. And they do it with a lot of different formations.”

Purdue might be a little more committed to run as Void is approaching current Tampa Bay running back Mike Alstott’s career touchdown record, something Void said he would like to achieve on Senior Day.

“The fact that I’m at running back and have been able to produce as much as I have, I think it’s a blessing,” Void said. “I’m excited at the opportunity to break the record. When I found out and the team was losing, setting a record seemed irrelevant to me. It would be big for me if I could break the record, but it’s not going to make or break my career.”

From watching the Illini on game film last week, Tiller believes the Illini are threatening to turn it around as well.

“They’ve had a similar season as ours, but I thought their effort level was really good on Saturday, and I was somewhat surprised they played Ohio State that tough, especially in the first half,” Tiller said. “Obviously, Illinois has some talent, and I’m glad we’re playing them here at home instead of in Champaign.”