Purdue notes, grades: Illini football falls in West Lafayette for fourth straight loss

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Photo Courtesy of Illinois Athletics

Josh McCray stiff-arms an approaching Purdue defender during the game in West Lafayette on Saturday. A dismal performance from the offense canceled out a career day for Josh McCray and an impressive defensive display, which included two interceptions.

By Josh Pietsch, Assistant On-Air Editor

Illinois traveled a short distance to face the Boilermakers on Saturday and lost a low scoring battle, 13-9. 

Short-handed on both offense and defense, the Illini were missing running back Chase Brown, defensive back Devon Witherspoon and linebacker Jake Hansen. Purdue also had multiple starters missing, including star receiver David Bell.

The biggest moment of the game was when Illinois, leading 9-6 midway through the fourth quarter, had a fourth-and-2 inside the Boilermaker 40. Instead of attempting a field goal, Bielema and staff elected to punt, while kicker James McCourt was three of four on the day at the time. Purdue drove down the field and scored a touchdown, putting it up four, and Illinois was unable to get in the end zone after that. 

Be aggressive, Bret.

For the second week in a row, a questionable call by Bielema and his staff may have cost Illinois a football game. Last week against Maryland, Illinois punted on a fourth-and-1 in the fourth quarter in Terrapin territory, and ultimately gave up a touchdown anyway to lose the game. The same thing happened at Purdue.

Once is a fluke, but twice is a pattern. You would think that after last week’s mistake, Bielema would have learned. But his questionable play-calling probably lost Illinois the game. Had they kicked a field goal instead of punting, they would have been up 12-6. If the Purdue touchdown stood, which would have put them up 13-12, the Illini drove into field goal range on their final drive and could have won 15-13.

The difference between 1-2 and 3-0 in conference play probably comes down to playcalling. McCourt had already hit a field goal from that length against Purdue, and there was no reason to doubt him. The defense deserved a win for the second week in a row, but play-calling once again prevented them from that. Not good at all, Coach. 

We see you, Josh McCray.

Freshman running back Josh McCray is already making his presence known as an Illini. After an impressive performance last week, the strong rusher helped Illinois move the ball from start to finish against Purdue.

McCray finished with over 100 yards for the first time in his young college career, and the Boilermakers struggled to bring him down all afternoon. Some credit should go to the fully healthy offensive line, but the broken tackles are all McCray.

With Chase Brown out due to injury, McCray stepped up as needed. He adds to an already impressive running back room, which was the only bright spot on Illinois’ offense Saturday.

Offense: D+

I wish I could split this category into passing and rushing, because the two were very different stories. As I just mentioned, the Illinois running backs had a great day. McCray was great, and Jakari Norwood also had a nice day, as Illinois finished with 175 yards on the ground.

The passing game was a whole other story. Peters threw 14 passes for 26 completions, finishing with only 100 yards. He also got extremely lucky in the third quarter on an interception that should have been picked off. 

Peters was OK at times, but the receivers also struggled with dropped balls again, which killed some high-momentum drives. To win a game, you have to score points, and not getting in the end zone once killed the Illini on a day where the defense was so good.

Defense: B+

It wasn’t an A for a few reasons. David Bell didn’t play, the Purdue running group was thin and the final Boilermaker offensive drive wasn’t great. But it would be completely unfair to say the defense didn’t do its job in West Lafayette.

After Purdue kicked a field goal on each of its first two drives, the defense didn’t allow a score until late in the fourth quarter, which was ultimately the game-winning touchdown. Purdue finished with zero second-half rushing yards after only 40 in the first half.

An interception each by Kerby Joseph and Tony Adams killed two drives that Purdue was moving the ball on. Joseph’s came at the end of a long drive that had the Boilermakers deep in the red zone. For a defense that had been criticized so heavily after three games, it has now held its own the last two weeks, and the team doesn’t have a win to show for it.

Special teams: A-

Blake Hayes did his thing. He punted a ball 80 yards that only counted for 60 due to a touchback, but he did his job. He’s the best player on the team and the best punter in the country.

McCourt prevents the special teams from an A+, since he did miss a 54-yard field goal, but he was perfect other than that. Makes from 51, 35 and 45 showed for a great day from the Illini kicker, who should have been given a chance to extend the lead for his team in the fourth quarter. It’s a damn shame he didn’t. 

@JPietsch14 

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