9-Voit battery: revisiting the nine burning questions

_Editor’s note: Every week, Gordon will give his take on nine aspects from the football game and highlight the most important things about each subject._

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

Well so much for standing untouched in the pocket. Purdue’s secondary was as stingy as advertised, but the Boilermakers’ pass rush was a significant surprise, generating far more pressure than expected and forcing Scheelhaase into tight spots. He finished the game 22-for-35, with just 217 yards, and struggled at times to hit his receivers.

Purdue entered tied for 105th in the nation in sacks with just 1.0 per game but finished with four sacks and seven tackles for a loss. After the game, Illini offensive coordinator Paul Petrino said the entire pass protection unit was to blame.

“Sometimes it was an offensive lineman getting beat, sometimes it was a running back getting beat,” Petrino said.

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

So much for Millines making his return, as well. Millines missed his fourth consecutive game and the team’s passing attack suffered without its clear-cut No. 2 playmaker. Spencer Harris was solid and finished with six catches for 39 yards, and running back Jason Ford help picked up the slack as well with 69 yards on five catches. However, neither can stretch defenses like Millines. One threat that continues to emerge is freshman tight end Jon Davis. The ESPNU 150 recruit came away from Purdue’s Ross-Ade Stadium with a career-high four catches and 28 yards.

“He’s been a great player for us,” Jenkins said. “He’s obviously going to contribute in the passing game. That’s pretty good for us; obviously we need more than just receivers making catches.”

As for Ricardo Allen, Purdue’s ace cornerback took the big play away from Jenkins despite his eight catches for 92 yards.

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

Ford was highly effective and averaged 8.3 yards on 10 carries while adding 69 yards through the air. He left last Saturday’s game against Ohio State with an injured shoulder but said he’s 100 percent and it didn’t seem to be a factor. Ford reached the 5 yards per carry plateau for the first time last week and continues to show signs of the potential All-Big Ten back he appeared to be in Rantoul.

“The first few weeks I was kind of thinking about it too much, trying to make the big play instead of just playing my game,” Ford said. “Now I feel like I’m more relaxed, not thinking about it, just playing the way I know I can play.”

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

This was an area that plagued the Illini in the first half Saturday much like it did last week against Ohio State. Quarterback Caleb TerBush, who was seen as a bit of a liability on the Purdue offense entering the game, engineered touchdown drives of 91 yards and 88 yards in the first half and took advantage of a short field on another 14-yard touchdown drive.

The Boilermakers went four for seven on third down tries in the first half, but sputtered in the second half as the Illini defense reverted to their old form and limited Purdue to one of seven on third down in that regard. TerBush gave Illinois fits early, but Purdue’s offense mustered just 75 yards of offense in the second half. Nevertheless, the defense will need to limit the long drives that have crippled them for the past two weeks.

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

As evidenced by Purdue’s 21 points in the first half Saturday, TerBush started off stronger than most expected. In the first half, he completed 12 of 16 passes for 145 yards and two touchdowns. This came as Illinois’ defensive front lost the battle to Purdue’s offensive line and came away with just one sack by linebacker Ian Thomas.

“(TerBush) got lucky a couple of times, he got out of the pocket,” safety Supo Sanni said. “He’s a big kid, and when we got those sacks we just have to take him down to the ground and completed some balls downfield and that got his confidence up.”

The feeling among players after the game seemed to follow suit with Sanni’s comments, that the defense’s miscues were just as much to blame as TerBush’s effectiveness.

“He really wasn’t a challenge basically. I give credit to him, he played his butt off definitely … but the thing is on defense we have to play better. A lot better,” defensive end Whitney Mercilus said. Mercilus was held without a sack, though he finished with five tackles and two for a loss. As for how specifically the defense shut out Purdue after a first half it would like to forget, Sanni said it wasn’t a factor of playcalling or personnel decisions but rather execution: “We just tightened up the coverage a little bit and we just focused on our keys more and we were able to stop the run and get them in third and long.”

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

Quarterback Reilly O’Toole’s interception was Illinois’ lone offensive turnover. This means that for the first time against a Bowl Subdivision opponent this season, the Illini didn’t lose a fumble. Purdue limited mistakes in a similar fashion, as Illinois defensive tackle Akeem Spence’s forced fumble that he recovered was Purdue’s only miscue. A virtual draw here.

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

Illinois laid an egg again in the early minutes of Saturday’s game and was forced to fight through a 21-point deficit in the second half.

“We just need to come out from the get-go and we need to play better,” Sanni said. “We always come out real slow and just the point of emphasis, what we’re going to do in practice this week, just come out playing hard from the get-go and you know, we won’t fall into these problems.”

Several players and coaches emphasized after the game how positive the vibe was at practice in the week leading up to the game, which made the loss all the more mystifying.

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

The answer is simple: to a significant extent. Neither team attempted a field goal and Purdue’s tandem of punters, Cody Webster and Carson Wiggs, averaged 41.2 net yards compared to Illinois’ Justin DuVernois’ 35.0 average. More importantly, DuVernois set up the Boilermakers’ third touchdown when he dropped the snap and was tackled well behind the line of scrimmage. TerBush then found fullback Jared Crank for a four-yard touchdown four plays later to make it 21-0 Purdue. Both teams finished the game with negative yardage in the punt return game, and neither made a major impact in kick return situations.

*9. Can the running game bounce back?*

It’s hard to say exactly how Illinois’ run game would have fared given the fact the Illini were forced to take to the air with an early deficit. In limited action Jason Ford had what was in many ways his best game this season, though Scheelhaase struggled with just 16 net yards rushing.

“They schemed it well, to where, on the quarterback runs and things like that, on read plays, they weren’t going to let me get on the outside and get loose, but it was nothing too different that should have caused us too many problems,” Scheelhaase said. “As far as the sacks go, it was probably me just holding on to the ball too long. Sometimes you just gotta get rid of it or let (the receivers) know where the hot route is when they bring blitzes.”

_Gordon is a senior in LAS. He can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @GordonVoit._