9-Voit Battery: Nine burning questions heading into Purdue

*1. How will Scheelhaase respond to a lack of pressure on third down?*

If it looks like Nathan Scheelhaase is in one of those Madden training camp accuracy drills in third-down situations Saturday, it’s because he is. Purdue generates little to no pressure up front (1.0 sacks/game, tied for 105th), which means the Illini quarterback will have an abnormally long amount of time to pick a target. This is compounded by the fact that Purdue will be missing reserve end Robert Maci, who has a third of the team’s six sacks.

*2. How fast can Darius Millines snap back into place?*

Millines (foot) was severely missed in his three-game absence. No member of the receiving corps truly stepped up in his place, which only put further pressure on Scheelhaase and go-to receiver A.J. Jenkins. The single-connection setup worked against paltry Northwestern and Indiana secondaries, but it was clearly an issue against a high-level group like Ohio State. Purdue presents a similar challenge as a fellow top-35 pass defense and Illinois will need Millines to get back to full health as soon as possible. Millines won’t be 100 percent Saturday, but he will reportedly see time.

*3. Can Jason Ford build off his six-carry glimpse of potential?*

I had to do a double take when I saw running back Jason Ford lower his shoulder and plow through a defender twice on the same series against Ohio State last week. He has looked sluggish and unwilling to go into battering ram mode at times this year but shook all that off with his six-carry, 30-yard showing that was an (albeit brief) sight for sore eyes. Ford (shoulder) is expected to play against Purdue but it remains to be seen if he can recapture that Ohio State form.

*4. Will the Illinois run defense limit sustained drives?*

Ohio State ran off a string of six straight runs for five or more yards Saturday in an opening drive that had my jaw on top of my shoelaces. Despite the complete lack of a passing game the Buckeyes were able to pummel the Illinois defense four to seven yards at a time using running backs Dan Herron and Jordan Hall as well as quarterback Braxton Miller. Purdue’s offense is similarly challenged in the passing game and features a pair of talented backs in Ralph Bolden and Akeem Shavers. Can you say second chance?

*5. Just how much can this defense rattle quarterback Caleb TerBush?*

TerBush, who is a Metamora, Ill., native, will represent a similar challenge as Indiana’s Dusty Kiel given his relative lack of experience — and more importantly, lack of elite speed. TerBush isn’t quite in the 42-year-old quarterback classification (68 rushing yards at Rice), but nevertheless defensive end Whitney Mercilus and company will have a real opportunity to generate some point-scoring opportunities on defense by getting pressure on the junior. Kiel completed just six of 19 passes and fumbled to set up cornerback Tavon Wilson’s return touchdown. How much can Illinois’ defense rattle TerBush?

*6. Who will win the battle of the turnovers?*

It’s no secret that Illinois struggles to hold on to the ball. Running backs Donovonn Young and Ford have struggled with fumbling at times, and Scheelhaase mishandled a few shotgun snaps last week. The Illini’s minus-2 turnover margin this season will haunt them if it continues. Meanwhile, Purdue has an even mark of 0 this season.

*7. Can Scheelhaase and Co. strike early?*

Illinois has developed a nasty habit of starting games slow, and the Illini have played catchup from the outset in each game dating back to their sleepy September win over Western Michigan. Going down 10-0 against Indiana is one thing, but doing the same against a better team like Michigan or Wisconsin — even Purdue — could spell serious trouble.

*8. To what extent will Purdue get an advantage on special teams?*

Purdue places a great emphasis on special teams and even has its own special teams coordinator in J.B. Gibboney. The Boilermakers boast one of the top punters in the nation in sophomore Cody Webster while Illinois has struggled mightily at times this season in that regard. Kicker Carson Wiggs has an outstanding leg despite his 9-for-14 mark, and Illinois has had little to no impact in return situations this year. Just how much of an advantage will Purdue glean from this special teams firepower?

*9. Can the running game bounce back?*

Marquee opponent or not, Illinois’ 3.3 yards per carry against Ohio State can’t happen again, especially if Millines is going to take some time to get back to 100 percent. The Illini imposed their will on defenses in nonconference play using the run, but that dominating swagger has since been compromised. Especially with Ford nursing a (presumably) sore shoulder, can Young bounce back from outing last week in which he gained just 13 yards? If not, can Troy Pollard be effective when given 15-plus carries? Purdue’s defense doesn’t get much of a pass rush but it does have several sturdy run-stopping pieces, including fifth-year linebacker Joe Holland (7.2 tackles per game) and a pair of 300-pounders clogging the middle in Bruce Gaston and All-Conference shoo-in Kawann Short.

_Gordon Voit is a senior in LAS. He can be reached at [email protected]_