Earlier this week, Brian Bennett discussed the significance of Illinois-Purdue as a potentially season-turning game for both teams.
If the first half is any indication, Purdue will be a team to watch in the second half of Big Ten play.
The Fighting Illini? Uh oh.
Purdue dominated the first half at Ross-Ade Stadium, surging to a 21-0 lead against No. 23 Illinois at the break. The Boilers are building on a nice effort at Penn State and putting it together in all three phases, while the Illini look shell-shocked coming off of their first loss.
Regardless of how this game ends, Purdue has found its quarterback in Caleb TerBush. The junior has been brilliant against his home-state school, completing 12 of 16 passes for 145 yards and two touchdowns. Credit Purdue offensive coordinator Gary Nord for being creative with his personnel. The Boilers have run a bit of Wildcat with Justin Siller and gotten several backs involved, including Raheem Mostert, who has a 21-yard touchdown run.
Illinois looks very shaky in all three areas, including the kicking game, where it muffed a punt and continued to have adventures on punt returns. The muffed punt turned into a Purdue touchdown, although Illinois didn't help itself with a personal foul penalty after holding the Boilers on third down. Put bluntly, Illinois isn't surviving the mistakes it did earlier in the season, while a mistake-ridden Purdue squad has cleaned up its act.
Illini quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase is struggling for the second consecutive week, completing just 5 of 10 passes for 51 yards. Illinois recorded only three first downs with Scheelhaase in the game before going to Reilly O'Toole, who briefly provided a spark before an ill-advised deep throw was picked off by Ricardo Allen. Opposing teams are finding out that when A.J. Jenkins is taken out of the game, Illinois doesn't have much else on offense.
Barring a major turnaround, Illinois could be headed for its second consecutive loss, which would increase chatter about a second-half collapse.
Purdue, meanwhile, is 30 minutes away from making a statement to the rest of the Big Ten.
Don't sleep on the Boilers.