It looks like Josh Ferguson will finally be back in the lineup for the Illini on Saturday against Purdue.
And that, for Illinois, is phenomenal news.
Thursday night’s injury report listed Ferguson as probable, a good sign that he’ll return for the first time since injuring his shoulder early on in Illinois’ win over Nebraska back on Oct. 3. He’s missed the entirety of three straight games — all Illini losses — and it’s been about as major a blow as you’d imagine a Big Ten team losing its senior running back would be.
In the first five games of the season, the Illini averaged 155.8 rushing yards per game. But in Ferguson’s three-game absence, the Illini have totaled 138 yards. That’s it: 46 yards against Iowa, 55 yards against Wisconsin and 37 yards against Penn State.
Illinois has the Big Ten’s worst rushing offense, averaging just 114.6 yards on the ground per game.
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Now, there’s plenty of reason to believe that even with Ferguson those yardage totals would’ve been quite low. Iowa, Wisconsin and Penn State boast three of the best defenses in the country, and when it comes to stopping the run, the Hawkeyes and Badgers are the fifth- and seventh-best teams in the FBS, respectively. The Nittany Lions aren’t too shabby, ranking 42nd.
But Ferguson’s absence certainly had a lot to do with things. Without the senior, the Illini had to rely heavily on freshman Ke’Shawn Vaughn. Vaughn performed well after Ferguson was injured in the Nebraska game, carrying the ball 24 times for 98 yards in that win. In the last three games, he accumulated a total of 160 yards, getting 19, 13 and 15 carries, respectively, in those contests.
The stars could align for a big rushing day this weekend. Not only is Ferguson back in the fold, but Purdue is the league’s worst team when it comes to stopping the run. The Boilermakers are allowing an average of 183 yards on the ground per game.
In three prior games against Purdue in his career, Ferguson has 218 yards on 45 carries and 114 receiving yards on 17 catches.