Purdue game a must-win for Illini football team with its back against the wall

Interim head coach Bill Cubit yells into his microphone during the Homecoming game against Wisconsin at Memorial Stadium on Saturday, October 24. Illinois lost 13-24.

By Peter Bailey-Wells, Sports editor

The Illini football season prior to last weekend’s 39-0 drubbing at the hands of Penn StateJT was well-represented by what Wes Lunt said following the team’s 29-20 loss to IowaJT.

“We’re tired of moral victories.”

Last weekend, Illinois snapped its streak of moral victories, and this week, a moral victory is off the table against Purdue. The Illini need to win — it’s fair to say they need a moral victory against the Boilermakers.

If Bill Cubit and his guys can’t beat Purdue in West Lafayette, Illini dreams of a bowl game start to fade, the win against Nebraska will fade to memory and Cubit’s likelihood of coaching in Champaign long-term will be quite low.

Illinois is “supposed to” beat Purdue: any preseason Illini prediction — mine included — chalked up this game as an orange and blue bloodbath. But this game doesn’t look like a lock any more.

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The Boilermakers have the reigning Big Ten Offensive and Defensive Players of the Week at their disposal, and scored 55 points on a Nebraska defense that Illinois squeaked out two touchdowns against. Sure, they’re 2-6 and on paper, they’re worse than Illinois.

But last year, a two-win Purdue team came into Memorial Stadium and embarrassed Tim Beckman and Co. before losing its final six games of the season. This year’s Boilermaker team has three games remaining after they play the Illini: two are against ranked Iowa and Northwestern teams and one is against Indiana, who is a hot and cold Big Ten team in the style of Illinois.

The Boilermakers won’t be favored in any of their remaining games. They’re a 2.5-point underdog against the Illini, and that’s probably as close as they get, spread-wise, for the rest of the year.

If I was a Purdue player, that’d be motivation. What would also be motivation would be the fact that Purdue is 8-2 against Illinois in the teams’ last 10 matchups. The Illini have won twice at Ross-Ade Stadium since the turn of the century.

When asked about the Illini’s preparation for Penn State, senior safety Clayton Fejedelem said he thought the team had some sloppy practices. If his assessment is right, going forward, the Illini can’t afford another week like the last.

On Monday, Ted Karras was more serious than he’s been all year, particularly when he was asked if anyone on the team quit against Penn State.

“No,” he said. “I’ve never seen anyone on this University of Illinois team quit.”

And that matters, but only up to a point. There are no moral victories to be found in West Lafayette this weekend.

At the beginning of the season, the seniors and the captains talked about their goal of winning the Big Ten West. Now they’re talking about their goal of qualifying for a bowl. They’re adjusting accordingly — Karras is right, they certainly haven’t given up, but the way this season is going, for morale’s sake, they need a win against Purdue.

Peter is a junior in Media.
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