Illinois aims to field healthier roster against Purdue

NCAA Football

Illinois has played one more game overall than Big Ten rival Purdue and also has two conference games under its belt compared with zero for the Boilermakers.

While that might be construed as an advantage for the Fighting Illini entering Saturday’s visit to West Lafayette, Ind., injury concerns are a neutralizer.

Illinois (1-3, 1-1) hopes the game will mark the first time the team’s starting center, quarterback and running back share the field in 2021.

Coach Bret Bielema offered encouraging news this week, saying center Doug Kramer and starting running back Chase Brown are expected to play Saturday. Kramer missed last Friday’s 20-17 loss to Maryland with an ailing right foot, while Brown is nursing an undisclosed injury.

Starting defensive lineman Keith Randolph (undisclosed) also might return as Illinois takes on the Boilermakers (2-1, 0-0).

“I’m excited to hopefully get a little bit deeper and stronger at certain positions,” Bielema said. “We are driven a lot off what we do in practice and the players that we’ve got to play with. When we get healthier and get more consistent with those players practicing, that’s when we’ll make big steps.”

Victory eluded both teams one week ago.

Purdue faced just a four-point deficit entering the fourth quarter at No. 12 Notre Dame before the Fighting Irish pulled away for a 27-13 win.

The Boilermakers lost top receiver David Bell to injury during the game. Bell contributed seven receptions for 64 yards and stands 21 yards shy of 2,000 for his career.

Whether he gets the chance to match or surpass that mark against Illinois remains to be seen, however. Purdue coach Jeff Brohm said Bell was in the concussion protocol and the team is “seeing how he progresses.”

Fellow receiver Mershawn Rice (foot) also was injured and “will be out for an extended period of time,” Brohm said.

Illinois, meanwhile, squandered a fourth-quarter lead in a loss to visiting Maryland. The Terrapins scored 10 points in the final 2:13, capped by Joseph Petrino’s 32-yard field goal as time expired.

Brohm said Purdue is prepared for an improved and resolved Fighting Illini team.

“They’re 1-1 in the conference; could easily be 2-0,” he said. “They let one slip away against Maryland. They’re playing competitive football. They play aggressive. They’re a physical football team. They’re going to be hungry.”

Making his first start since sustaining an injury early in the season opener against Nebraska, Illinois quarterback Brandon Peters completed 10 of 26 passes for 185 yards, with an interception.

“There were some learning moments, just like every starting quarterback,” Bielema said. “He’s definitely our starting quarterback this week and moving forward; hopefully, he’s going to continue to improve and get better.”

Purdue’s Jack Plummer and Aidan O’Connell combined for 291 passing yards at Notre Dame, with the former completing 25 of 36 passes for 187 yards and a touchdown before leaving the game with an undisclosed injury.

While Brohm tapped Plummer as the starter against Illinois, that doesn’t guarantee he’ll finish the game.

“Both guys have played for us and have played good football, and like every position on our team, if we have a position we feel good about, we’re not going to be afraid to play multiple guys,” Brohm said.

–Field Level Media

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