Quarterback questions loom as Purdue, Illinois clash
By MICHAEL MAROT
Purdue coach Jeff Brohm decided to pull Jack Plummer during last week's loss to No. 12 Notre Dame.
Illinois coach Bret Bielema took the opposite approach with Brandon Peters.
Now after a week of quarterback questions, the Boilermakers and Illini will renew their rivalry Saturday with Plummer and Peters again expected to be again in the starting lineup.
"He played a good game. Could he have played better? Sure, he could have," Brohm said Monday, making it clear there was no debate in his mind. "But he was under some duress and he had to make some throws off his back foot and had to stand in there quite a bit and take some hits."
Plummer was solid, going 25 of 36 with 187 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions and two sacks by the Fighting Irish. Backup Aidan O'Connell finished 11 of 18 with 104 yards and no sacks.
Each has starting experience, each adds a different dynamic and Brohm has always been open to playing one or more quarterbacks. This time, as the Boilermakers (2-1) prepare for their Big Ten opener, Brohm wants to see more from other players.
"For us to win, we have to be clicking on all cylinders," Brohm said. "When we take the field, we've got to play confident and go out there and play aggressive and play for the win."
Illinois (1-3, 1-1 Big Ten) faced a similar scenario this week after losing its third straight.
Peters struggled against Maryland after returning from a non-throwing shoulder injury. Some were calling for a switch back to Artur Sitkowski, the transfer from Rutgers who stepped in when Peters got hurt.
Bielema made it clear he's sticking with Peters.
"I think a lot of times coaches say this, people say this, I think there's a lot of truth to it, you have your biggest improvement from Game 1 to Game 2," Bielema said. "This is really that chance for Brandon this week."
When Illinois linebacker Jake Hansen forced his 12th career fumble, the most among active FBS players, he entered rare territory. Hansen needs one more to tie Simeon Rice's school record and he's three away from tying the Big Ten record held by former Wisconsin star Chris Borland. But he's not just a numbers guy.
"There are two guys on our team who when they speak everybody listens -- (center) Doug Kramer on offense and Jake Hansen on defense," Bielema said. "Jake Hansen, I know he's played a lot of good football but the game he played Friday was pretty special. He made all the plays he was supposed to make and he made a lot of other ones. He's truly an exceptional football player."
The Boilermakers have spent two weeks plugging holes and they won't even know whether their top player, all-conference receiver David Bell, will play yet. Bell was carted off the field in the fourth quarter last week after a hard hit that sent him face-first into the ground, with his head bouncing hard off the turf. He's been in the concussion protocol all week.
The Boilermakers also will be without Bell's backup, Mershawn Rice (foot), and top running back Zander Horvath, who broke his leg two weeks ago.
Freshman running back Josh McCray was one of Bielema's first recruits and after last week's game against Maryland, everyone understands why. McCray scored on a 38-yard TD run and led the Illini with eight carries for 60 yards before going to a nearby hospital for an undisclosed reason. Bielema said McCray went home a few hours after the game and is expected to play Saturday.
"I think Josh is going to be a big part of our future," Bielema said. "I think he's a very talented player that's got a lot of right ingredients to be a really special player."
The winner of Saturday's game gets the Cannon Trophy and will take the overall lead in a series that is tied at 45-45-6. Purdue holds a 39-30-2 edge since 1943 and has a 5-3 advantage in the last eight meetings, but the road team has won seven of the last nine.
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Updated September 23, 2021