WEST LAFAYETTE — Purdue quarterback David Blough didn’t want to watch the video of the hit that dislocated his ankle and shattered his junior season into a million pieces.
He kept it buried even after he was carted off the field last year, even after the surgeon repaired the ankle with pins, screws, stitches and anchors, even after most of the months-long rehab process. But, finally, after Blough knew he could return to spring football, he decided it was time to cue up the tape of Purdue against Illinois.
What he found was some extra motivation.
“I saw some things that made me want to get after Illinois,” Blough said this week. “Those guys are a good team. But I want to go out and give my best performance.”
Saturday, when Purdue (2-3, 1-1 Big Ten) travels to Champaign to play Illinois (3-2, 1-1), the Boilermakers will play in a rivalry game for the Cannon Trophy. They’ll look to get back to .500 and keep their bowl hopes on pace as the midpoint in the season arrives. They'll look to separate themselves in the Big Ten West.
But, for Blough, there’s also something more.
“When football gets taken away from you, it puts everything in perspective a little bit,” Blough said. “That being the opponent, all those emotions flooded back.”
This game represents a rematch, if you will. An opportunity to finish the drive and the game he never had a chance to last year. When he spoke with reporters this week, Blough peppered paragraphs with “It’s just another game,” followed almost immediately by a statement that contradicted that sentiment. Because the truth is, it’s not just another game.
“I broke my ankle against them,” Blough said. “I think any human would want to have a good game against Illinois. I’d treat it like any other game. But they’re going to get everything I’ve got.”
The injury occurred during a goal-line, read-option play in the fourth quarter. Blough was hit by a pair of Illinois defenders, and his right ankle buckled. His foot twisted like it was on backward before the medical staff rushed onto the field and popped it back into place.
“I threw up,” senior center Kirk Barron said. “It was gross. I got hit in the throat, too. I was throwing up. Then I looked at his ankle, I was really throwing up.”
Medical crews carted Blough off the field as the quarterback fired up fans with the “Boiler Up” gesture. As he was placed into an ambulance, Blough signaled for a touchdown to celebrate Elijah Sindelar’s 3-yard pass to Cole Herdman.
Dr. David Porter, the same surgeon who has performed surgeries on former NFL running back Marshall Faulk and Boston Celtics star Gordon Hayward, initially predicted a six-month recovery before Blough could step back on the playing field. However, after the operation, doctors amended that window to four-to-six months.
Blough aggressively rehabbed the injury and beat the four-month projection by a few days. He returned in time for spring football. Even though as a veteran it wasn’t necessary, it represented an important step in Blough’s process.
“He was diligent about it every single day,” quarterbacks coach Brian Brohm said. “He never really got down in the dumps. He attacked it every single day with the goal of getting back as soon as possible. He made it back for half of spring ball, which was pretty remarkable.”
This year, even once the rehab was compete, Blough had to battle to earn his spot on the field. Sindelar was preparing to be the starting quarterback against Missouri. Ironically, Sindelar’s injury opened the door for Blough to start.
The Texan has taken full advantage of the opportunity.
The past three weeks, Blough has played some of his best football in a Purdue uniform. The fifth-year grad student has completed 68 percent of his passes for 1,196 yards and seven passing touchdowns. He’s also rushed for a pair of touchdowns, while throwing just a single interception and surrendering just one fumble.
Now, as Blough and the Boilermakers look toward Saturday’s game, they’re looking to continue that momentum — and finish the drive and the game Blough couldn’t at Illinois.