History will be the backdrop for Illinois vs. Purdue

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Illinois’ Wes Lunt looks to pass the ball during the game against Texas State at Memorial Stadium on Sept. 20, 2014.

By Charlotte Carroll

Saturday is 125 years and 90 meetings in the making.

For Illinois football, this weekend’s game against Purdue is one of historic proportions. Illinois and Purdue play in the Illini’s oldest rivalry, with hardware on the line. The Illini will also be celebrating 125 years of football in Champaign. 

History aside, it’s a must-win Big Ten match for the Illini, (3-2, 0-1 Big Ten) who are coming off a road loss to Nebraska. Purdue (2-3, 0-1) looks to redeem itself after a home loss to Iowa.

After being beaten by Ameer Abdullah and the Cornhusker’s run game, the Illini defense is hoping to avoid a similar fate against Purdue. One of the biggest keys will be stopping senior running backs Raheem Mostert and Akeem Hunt, who have 562 of the Boilermakers’ 671 total rushing yards this season.

“He’s (Hunt) been very impressive on film,” head coach Tim Beckman said. “He’s got great quicks. He’s more of a downhill-type runner. You know that we’re going to get the same type of scheme that Nebraska did, because they were successful doing it. We’ve got to get better at defending that. He will be the guy, in my opinion, as you watch him on film right now, that you have to defeat.”

While the defense works on stopping the Boilermakers’ run game, the offense will be looking for quarterback Wes Lunt to step up after he missed the entire Nebraska game due to a knee injury.

Lunt currently leads the Big Ten with 309.3 passing yards per game. Illinois’ coaches are looking for Lunt to make a safe return to the field this weekend.

“Hopefully, he can go out there and run around with a limited amount of pain,” offensive coordinator Bill Cubit said. “And I think it will be, it’ll be all right.”

Illinois leads the overall series against Purdue 43-40-6 and the Purdue Cannon trophy currently resides in the Illinois locker room following the Illini’s 20-16 victory last year at Purdue.

The Purdue Cannon is one of three rivalry game trophies for Illinois and made its first trip to Champaign in 1905. Illinois students stole the cannon after that game and it didn’t resurface again until 1943, when it started being used as a trophy for the rivalry.

For current Illini, the prospect of such history heightens the game experience. And it’s an added motivator following the Nebraska loss.

“It’s a bit more personal when you have the trophy,” offensive lineman Simon Cvijanovic said. “When it’s right there in front of you every day and you know you won that game. I do take losses very personally, as it’s something that sticks with me longer than most guys. I really hate losing.”

Charlotte can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @charlottecrrll.