Cheap Shot Likely Ends Blough's Season As Boilers Pull Away Late
First and 10 at the Illinois 12, Boilers up 6, looking for a TD to make it a two-score game. Blough keeps it, heads upfield. An Illinois player hits him helmet-to-helmet, dropping him to a knee for the tackle; another Illinois player flies in headfirst; fortunately, instead of knocking Blough unconscious, he makes contact with a teammate first and only then hits Blough in the head. Refs throw the obvious flag for a personal foul and review the play.
There were a number of possible outcomes: an unlikely one would be multiple personal fouls, but the most reasonable one was personal foul, targeting, ejection. You can see from the box score what the official call was, if you didn't play the video above:
No targeting. No personal foul. Nothing. The clown show that is NCAA officiating determined that there was nothing to penalize here. Somehow, a multi-billion-dollar organization that is specifically tasked with providing quality officiating has determined that part-time jobs are appropriate for this situation, which is why we repeatedly see inexplicable calls ... and since neither the refs nor the NCAA are accountable to anyone, at best, all we'll get is some sort of mealy-mouthed apology that "mistakes were made." When the Power 5 finally get tired of this, or when the onslaught of legal proceedings sink the NCAA, let's hope they use some of their money to pay full-time officials ... and to put steps in place to ensure accountability from those officials.
Elijah Sindelar came in, hit Cole Herdman for a TD on the second play of his part of the drive, and the Illini were done. To be honest, they were done when Lovie Smith was hired, but you still have to play the games, and as the Boilers have shown the last two weeks, there are some unfortunate reasons for doing that. Today was a different story, though, as the Illinois offense actually made Purdue's offense look efficient, converting just 2 of 13 third downs and 1 of three fourth downs and managing just 250 yards total offense, with nearly 60% of that coming on just four plays, none of which was a scoring play. The Good Guys held Jeff George Jr. to just 2 of 7 passing for 11 yards, with an 8-yard TD (Illinois' only TD of the day) and one interception. Cam Thomas was only marginally better, 10/20/0 for 159, but as hinted above, 8/18/0 for 77 without two long completions.
On most days, that effort won't get you anywhere near a W, but for three quarters, they were hanging around. Blough was remarkably efficient (16/24/0, 194), and the running game started off pretty well, but like Illinois, the Purdue offense was a boom-or-bust outfit, and with their third-down woes continuing (5 for 13, .385, which was significantly better than their season average of .302 but still only a Cincinnati-caliber conversion rate), they could reach the end zone just once, and they had just a 16-10 lead. With the ball near midfield, they were in good position to mount a scoring drive, but there hadn't been a lot to suggest they could repeat their 7-play, 68-yard TD drive on their first possession of the game.
The fourth quarter changed that. Purdue drove for that TD, picked off Jeff Jr. on the next drive, then drove 53 yards in 7 plays for their final TD. Illinois would get just two first downs the rest of the way, and the Purdue Cannon would get a second year in West Lafayette for the first time since 2012, when the Boilers edged Illinois 20-17 to retain it.
While the win turned out to be a comfortable one, and the running game looked solid again (209 yards, 4.8 average, 11 first downs), there were still plenty of reminders that the rebuilding job facing Jeff Brohm and his staff is still going to be a long one, early successes notwithstanding.
- Purdue committed 8 penalties for 66 yards, including a costly PI on a third-down incompletion that set up Illinois' only TD and a 12-men penalty that turned a fourth-and-6 into a fourth-and-1: the Illini would drive to the 6 before having to settle for a field goal.
- Jackson Anthrop fumbled a punt; Illinois recovered at the Purdue 26, but the defense stood tall, and two Illinois penalties on fourth down forced Lovie Smith to send in the punt team.
- With the exception of their opening drive and an excellent one-minute drill at the end of the half, the first half was largely a struggle for the offense. They did score on three of their four drives, but moving the ball was difficult, and Illinois' woeful defense managed to keep the Good Guys out of the end zone for nearly three full quarters.
Having said that, it was still a comfortable win over a bad team at home, which is something you have to do if you want to hang out in the bowl-eligible part of the standings. I'll also point out that unlike my pessimistic colleagues, I expected this. Illinois is bad. Purdue likes to run the ball. Illinois doesn't stop the run well. That's a setup for the type of game we saw here ... and with the Boilers having just 10 possessions (excluding the kneeldowns at the end of the game), the effective margin of victory was bigger than the scoreboard showed. Until the passing game is working properly, we'll have to settle for run-based wins, and without the deep threats that open up the running game, they're more likely to be lower-scoring games.
Up next for the Good Guys: a two-game road trip that looks maybe a bit more challenging than it did yesterday. As I write this, Iowa is tied with Ohio State 17-17 in Iowa City, and Northwestern is leading Nebraska 14-7 in Lincoln. Either team would have been more of a challenge than Illinois even if the games were in Ross-Ade; on the road, they'll be tough ones to win, especially with one fewer QB ready to play. We wish good news and a speedy recovery for David Blough, and a strong outing next week in Evanston for the Boilers. 4-5 isn't a bad place to be, but 5-5 would be really nice, and it'll take a better performance than this next week to get Purdue back to .500.
Feature image courtesy of Illini Football on Twitter - thanks, folks! Oh, for the image, too.