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Illinois Rutgers Football

Illinois running back Mike Epstein finishes off a 41-yard touchdown run during last Saturday's game against Rutgers.

CHAMPAIGN — Two in a row is the goal.

A win over Purdue on Saturday at Memorial Stadium (2:30 p.m., FS1) would make the University of Illinois winners of two consecutive Big Ten Conference football games for the first time since beating Penn State and Northwestern in 2014.

Purdue (2-3, 1-1) is a 10-point favorite after Illinois (3-2, 1-1) went on the road and snapped a 700-day conference losing streak with a 38-17 win over Rutgers.

“Rutgers was a huge game for us," offensive lineman Nick Allegretti said. "We went out and took care of business and now Purdue is even bigger. We have a chance to win back-to-back Big Ten games for the first time since the year I redshirted. Nobody has played and won in back-to-back Big Ten games that’s on our (active) roster."

Standing in the way is a Purdue team that has won two straight after opening the season 0-3 and is led by explosive freshman receiver Rondale Moore.

Moore has 41 receptions for 457 yards and four touchdowns. Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm has found unique ways to get Moore the ball, including on handoffs, where he has 140 rushing yards. Moore ranks third in the country, according to Pro Football Focus, with 13 missed tackles after the catch.

“He poses a lot of problems for any defense," Illinois coach Lovie Smith said. "I know he’s a freshman, a true freshman, but I think you look at what he’s done. Evaluating the player, he’s as good as — it’s pretty early to be talking about him this way — but he’s as impressive as anybody as I’ve seen in a while, especially a young player like that."

Defensive coordinator Hardy Nickerson said Moore is "absolutely one of the best players we've seen so far."

Illinois figures to keep with the defensive shakeup it made last week after moving Sydney Brown and Tony Adams to the safety spots — especially in light of sophomore Bennett Williams' dismissal from the team.

The top corners for the Illini are Cameron WatkinsNate Hobbs and freshman Quan Martin, who is tied for the team lead with three interceptions.

Illinois ranks first in the Big Ten with a plus-eight turnover margin and has 10 interceptions this season.

Purdue has settled on quarterback David Blough, who is completing 68.2 percent of his passes for 1,318 yards, seven touchdowns and an interception. The Boilermakers started the season with Elijah Sindelar, who started one game and has played in two.

“He’s able to extend plays in the passing game," Nickerson said of Blough. "He’s not quite the runner that (Penn State quarterback Trace) McSorley is in the running game. In the passing game where he poses the big problems is where he starts moving around, avoiding the rush, buying time and then he's able to put the ball down field."

Purdue has turned the ball over eight times this season — four interceptions (three by Sindelar) and four fumbles.

The Boilermakers didn't turn the ball over in last week's win against Nebraska and had two fumbles two weeks ago in a win over Boston College.

"We have actually been pretty good lately at not turning it over and it's giving us a chance to win," Brohm said. "When we have turned it over, we've been really bad. This team does a good job.

"They are going to play pressure, get up on you, challenge every throw and when they play zone, they are going to play their typical Tampa 2 zone with their eyes on the quarterback and hope that they bait you into throwing it up the field and they are going to react and pick it off. They have done a good job of getting turnovers."

Illinois quarterback AJ Bush Jr. returned last week against Rutgers after missing 11 quarters and was a factor in the run game. He rushed for 116 yards and two touchdowns as the Illini have moved up to the third-best rushing attack in the Big Ten.

"It's going to be mostly by the run with what they do, and with that, they have a good running back and those two guys, we have to defend," Brohm said. "We have got to make sure that we eliminate big plays by their quarterback and running back running the football. That's where they have made their money this year."

Purdue ranks second-to-last in the Big Ten in total defense, just ahead of Illinois, allowing 447.2 yards per game, but that's not enough for Illinois offensive coordinator Rod Smith to take the Boilermakers lightly.

“This will be one of the best defenses we face," Smith said. "I know some might say, ‘Well, they’re down below,’ but that’s not indicative of who they are. They’re big, they’re athletic, they run well. It’s going to be a tremendous challenge. They do a great job against the run."

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Contact Joey Wagner at (217) 421-6970. Follow him on Twitter: @mrwagner25

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Reporter for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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