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Illini have a lot going for them vs. Purdue

Nathan Scheelhaase has been bright spot amid gloom during his career Illinois which ended 20-game losing streak Big Ten last

Nathan Scheelhaase has been a bright spot amid the gloom during his career at Illinois, which ended a 20-game losing streak in the Big Ten last week. | AP

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Updated: November 23, 2013 2:12AM

Illinois has lost 20 consecutive Big Ten games. Somehow, despite that, the Illini (3-7, 0-6) are favored by a touchdown at Purdue (1-9, 0-6) on Saturday. Can you feel the love, Tim Beckman?

Five things I don’t want to know yet about the game but am afraid I already do:

1. Illini quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase needs to average 299 total yards in the team’s final two games to eclipse Juice Williams’ school career record of 10,594. The senior has averaged 395 total yards in his last three games, and Purdue — ranked 101st nationally in total defense — doesn’t seem to be a team that can shut him down. Scheelhaase will pile up enough yardage to coast to the record next Saturday against Northwestern.

2. The Illini have exactly one 100-yard rushing game all season — by Josh Ferguson, who had 114 at Nebraska. It’s time for another. Ferguson, a sophomore who starred at Joliet Catholic, will break at least one long scoring run on the way to 115-plus.

3. Purdue’s Danny Etling, a true freshman quarterback who completes barely half of his passes, doesn’t have the experience or the weapons around him to toy with the Illini defense as many others have. This game gives coordinator Tim Banks a chance to turn up some heat on Etling and see if his guys can get home on blitzes. Banks hasn’t had the luxury of doing that because of his painfully young secondary, but now is the time. Illinois’ 1.2 sacks per game is one of the lowest averages in the country, but watch Etling get dumped a few times.

4. There will be fewer than 1,000 Illini fans in the stands at Ross-Ade Stadium, and by that we might mean fewer than a couple hundred. Although West Lafayette, Ind., is within easy driving distance and tickets to this game are almost free on the secondary market, let’s face it: Illini types don’t travel for football. If they did, they could make a difference in a truly apathetic Purdue crowd.

5. Both teams have return men who’ve proven they can take it all the way. If Purdue’s Raheem Mostert outperforms Illinois’ V’Angelo Bentley, the Boilermakers certainly can win this game. For depth reasons, several Illini defensive starters have appeared on kick-coverage teams — and fared well. If they hem in Mostert, this should be that long-awaited Big Ten “W” for Beckman.


Twitter: @slgreenberg

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