Illinois vs. Purdue, a must-win for Illini


Here’s a brief look at Tim Beckman’s Monday news conference this week.

Coach is this a must-win game?

“Every game’s a must-win.”

Defensive coordinator Tim Banks was asked the same question.

“I feel every week’s a must-win.”

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Was that scripted? Banks, at least, elaborated (sort of).

“That’s not coaching cliché, that’s the reality of it,” Banks said. “You’re judged week-in and week-out by what you do on Saturday.”

That might be the reality of it, but it’s also coaching cliché. If every game is a must-win game, then the real judge of a must-win game would be whether others think it’s a must-win game or not.

If the media asks Beckman if this weekend’s matchup with Purdue is a must-win, then it probably is a must-win. Nobody asked him if Western Kentucky was a must-win game. Nobody asked him if Nebraska was a must-win game.

Playing Purdue at home Saturday is a must-win game. The Boilermakers have not won a conference game since Nov. 3, 2012. Yes, this Purdue squad is better than last year’s 1-11 team. And yes, Purdue’s winless streak in conference play has to end eventually.

But a loss this weekend would look very bad.

Athletic director Mike Thomas generally looks angry about something on game days. If Illinois loses to Purdue, stay out of his way. If the Illini can’t beat Purdue, who else in the Big Ten can they beat?

This is a must-win game as much as an early October matchup can be a must-win game.

On the positive side, quarterback Wes Lunt expects to be back. He said so himself and coaches have been optimistic he will return after a knee injury that kept him on the sidelines in Lincoln.

Purdue’s offense is shockingly bad. No one is worried about the Illinois offense, assuming Lunt plays. But the Illini defense that surrendered 624 yards to the Cornhuskers last weekend desperately needs work.

Purdue managed a total of 156 yards against Iowa last week. Running back Akeem Hunt provided 117 of those. Even if the Illini defense falters against Purdue, Illinois should be able to at least outscore the Boilermakers. There’s no way the Boilermakers can keep up with a Wes Lunt-led offense.

If Reilly O’Toole is leading the Illinois offense, that changes things. But there’s no reason to think Lunt won’t start.

It wouldn’t be all that surprising if Purdue beat Illinois. Stranger things have happened. The Illini barely slipped by the Boilermakers a year ago in West Lafayette, 20-16.

And if you’re Purdue, you’re looking at this game the same way Illinois is: it’s probably the most-winnable game on the Big Ten schedule. One would have to imagine the Boilermakers are confident going into this one.

A loss to Purdue simply looks bad. That’s why this game is a must-win.

Sean is a senior in Media. He can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @sean_hammond.