How Illini, Boilermakers match up on the field

h2. Quarterback — Illinois

Purdue enters ranked ninth in the Big Ten with 194.3 passing yards a game, despite throwing at the third highest rate (31.2 attempts per game). Junior Caleb TerBush is still ahead of Miami transfer Rovert Marve (recovering from knee injury) on the depth chart.

However, TerBush struggled last week at Penn State on 12-of-25 passing for 162 yards, 50 of which came on one play, and Marve could see time. UI quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase struggled in similar fashion against Ohio State last week but is primed for a rebound performance.

h2. Running back — Purdue

Juniors Ralph Bolden (97 yards) and Akeem Shavers (54) both looked good last week at Penn State and its No. 22 run defense. Bolden is finally back to his 2009 pre-knee injury form and it’s showing. UI’s Donovonn Young had a poor outing (18 yards on eight carries) against Ohio State and faces another strong run defense in PU. Illini Jason Ford (shoulder) ran hard against Ohio State and is likely to play.

h2. Offensive line — Tie

WT Jeff Allen, WG Hugh Thornton and C Graham Pocic have more starts (82) than the entire PU line combined. UI’s unit held up extremely well last week in the passing game, allowing just two sacks to a strong Ohio State front, but lost in the run game (3.3 yards per carry) and on third down (3-of-9 until the second-to-last drive).

The PU unit has allowed 2.5 sacks per game compared to UI’s 2.7. Matchup between All-Conference candidate LT Dennis Kelly (6-foot-8, 306) and UI’s Whitney Mercilus will be nothing short of entertaining. PU head coach Danny Hope’s group averages roughly 6-foot-6, 303 pounds and boasts four upperclassmen.

h2. Defensive line — Illinois

At this point, I’m not sure I would give even South Carolina or LSU the advantage here. Mercilus proved he wasn’t just feasting on lesser opponents when he gave Ohio State’s vaunted offensive line a ride — nine tackles, 2.5 for loss, 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble.

Purdue has just six sacks to its name in six games, a rate which is tied for 105th in the nation. NG Kawann Short (6-foot-3, 310 pounds) is an All-Big Ten lock and leads the group with six tackles for a loss and two blocked kicks.

h2. Linebackers — Illinois

Jonathan Brown said after the Ohio State game that his 17 tackles were the most he had recorded in a game on any level. The sophomore should have another big game against TerBush, who lacks high-end speed. PU has a dependable-yet-unspectacular trio of starters in Joe Holland, Dwayne Beckford and Will Lucas, who combine for an average 18 tackles a game.

h2. Secondary — Illinois

PU corner Ricardo Allen is a special player already as a sophomore, but the depth of the unit isn’t. The Boilermakers allow just 200 yards per game through the air, which isn’t far behind the Illini’s average of 188.4 yards. However, UI corners Tavon Wilson and Terry Hawthorne continue to improve and the duo gives the UI defense some serious athleticism and big-play potential on the perimeter.

h2. Special Teams — Purdue

O.J. Ross and Raheem Mostert lead a kick return unit that ranks 19th in the nation with an average 25.2 yards per return. Kicker Carson Wiggs has a booming leg but has been slightly erratic this season, converting on just 9-of-14 attempts. Saturday at Penn State he missed a PAT try and sent a kickoff out of bounds. PU has 16 touchbacks to its name but is dead last in kick return defense allowed (29.2 yards per return). While PU’s struggles stretch one game, UI’s special teams has been disappointing all season minus kicker Derek Dimke.

h2. Coaching — Illinois

The positivity the UI coaching staff had generated from the weeks preceding last Saturday’s game was deflated somewhat when Ohio State completely got away with running a one-dimensional offense. Count on a bounce-back performance from the coordinators, whose adjustments have helped win games this season.

h2. X-factor — Illinois

PU is the most penalized team in the Big Ten with an average of 67.2 yards per game. It is, however, cleaner in the turnover battle ( 0 to -2). The Boilermakers have struggled mightily at times this season to convert on third down. In PU’s three losses, it has converted just 17 of 47 third-down attempts for an average of 36.2 percent, while UI had been strong in that regard all season prior to Ohio State. Despite the Boilermakers’ home-field advantage, I give the edge to the Illini, who will be playing with fire after losing last week.

_Gordon Voit is a senior in LAS. He can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @GordonVoit._