The story of Purdue’s 24-14 victory over Illinois on Saturday was not so much what happened, but instead, what didn’t happen.
Purdue turnovers? Didn’t happen.
Letdown for the home team, coming off of an emotional upset of Ohio State? Didn’t happen.
String of unfortunate events piling up after an early deficit? Didn’t happen.
Purdue turnovers? (Sorry, but with the way the season has unfolded to date, that one bears repeating.)
The Boilermakers won their second straight football game at Ross-Ade Stadium with a solid if not spectacular performance against an Illini squad that has yet to find a victory over a Football Bowl Subdivision team in 2009.
Despite falling behind 7-0, Purdue stuck with a patient, run-heavy gameplan and wore Illinois down to the tune of 220 rushing yards. By my count, the Boilermakers ran the ball on 13 of their first 14 offensive plays, and the combination of Ralph Bolden, Jaycen Taylor, and Joey Elliott piled up enough yards to spark Purdue to a 21-7 halftime lead.
(Special credit should be given to special teams standout Dan Dierking, who got a chance to play fullback and opened some big holes for Bolden and Taylor, really setting the tone for Purdue’s ground game domination.)
After jumping on top by a couple of touchdowns, the Boilers turned things over to their defense, which has played its best football during the current two-game winning streak.
Before last weekend’s surprising win over the Buckeyes, Purdue was allowing over 30 points per game. In the two wins against Ohio State and Illinois, the Boilermakers have yielded 32 points…combined.
While it’s hard to learn a lot about Purdue’s defensive unit against one of the nation’s most disappointing offenses (Ron Zook played three different quarterbacks in a futile attempt to find a spark), the home team took care of business, shutting down whoever was taking snaps for Illinois, and in the end, it was more than enough to get a hard-earned victory.
With the momentum of two straight wins, Purdue is once again dreaming of a bowl berth. A trip to the postseason remains unlikely, but if the Boilers have really kicked the turnover bug for good (did I mention they played 60 minutes of football without giving the ball away once?), who knows how many more wins may be in store for Danny Hope’s squad?
To become bowl-eligible, 3-5 Purdue needs to win three of the last four games on their schedule (at Wisconsin, at Michigan, Michigan State in Ross-Ade, and then at Indiana). In this writer’s opinion, taking care of the imploding Hoosiers shouldn’t be too difficult, and the .500 Spartans at home is a tossup, but winnable. Even with victories over Michigan State and Indiana, though, the Boilermakers would have to pull off a big road victory in Madison or Ann Arbor in the next two weeks to have a chance.
And that makes Saturday’s trip to Wisconsin a must-win game for the Old Gold and Black. (In case you haven’t brushed up on your Boilermaker history lately, Purdue hasn’t won at Michigan since 1966.)
Knock off the Badgers at Camp Randall, and Boilermaker fans can start thinking postseason. Drop a heartbreaker on Halloween to Bret Bielema’s 5-2 squad, and those hopes are on life support.
Will Danny Hope get his first road win as the Boilers’ head coach in Madison? If Purdue can follow the same recipe that got them past Illinois–turnover-free football, solid running game, and stingy defense—the underdogs could see their winning streak continue.
For now, they’re simply taking care of business.
Week Nine prediction: Wisconsin 30, Purdue 27
For more Big Ten football coverage from Bleacher Report writers Tim Cary, Kristofer Green, and Kevin Paul, visit FirstandBigTen.com .