Even if Purdue’s defense had more to do with a monster rushing day and a monster day in general for the Illinois offense, boy are the Illini glad to have Josh Ferguson back.
The senior running back sat out the last three games with a shoulder injury before returning to action Saturday and having a big performance in Illinois’ 48-14 rout of Purdue in West Lafayette.
The Illini amassed 382 rushing yards in a ridiculous ground effort, getting 134 yards from Ferguson and 180 yards from Ke’Shawn Vaughn, part of a nearly 600-yard day by the orange and blue offense.
The output was shocking following three straight games where the rushing attack and offense in general was virtually non-existent. In three consecutive losses to Iowa, Wisconsin and Penn State — three of the best defenses in the country, mind you — Illinois accumulated a total of 138 rushing yards. The Illini weren’t far from tripling that number Saturday.
And the defense did its part in a complete domination of the Boilermakers, limiting an offense that scored 55 points last weekend against Nebraska to just 263 yards and a pair of inconsequential touchdowns.
The Illini got on the board early with a 32-yard touchdown pass from Wes Lunt to Malik Turner, and after a pair of field goals from Taylor Zalewski, Ferguson took a screen pass from Lunt 12 yards for the team’s second touchdown, giving Illinois a 20-0 lead.
Purdue got a second-quarter touchdown in the first half’s finale minute, but that was answered before the clock ran out, with Lunt finding Desmond Cain for a 20-yard score with 14 seconds till the break.
Vaughn went for two touchdowns in the third quarter on scoring runs of six and 78 yards, and after a fourth-quarter touchdown for Purdue, Illinois wrapped the day’s scoring with a Kendrick Foster touchdown run.
Ferguson ended the day with 12 carries for 134 yards and six catches for 41 yards and a touchdown in his return to the field, something that obviously sparked the Illini offensively. Vaughn’s 180 yards and two touchdowns came on 16 carries.
Lunt completed 19 of his 33 passing attempts for 169 yards and a trio of touchdowns. Cain was the game’s leading receiver with six catches for 74 yards and a touchdown.
[SHOP BIG TEN: Get your Fighting Illini gear right here]
It was a tough follow up to last week’s win for Purdue. David Blough, who threw four touchdown passes in the win over the Huskers, threw just one Saturday compared to a pair of interceptions. And the Boilermakers were completely ineffective on the ground, gaining just 89 rushing yards.
The Illini moved to 5-4 with the victory and are just one win away from reaching a bowl game for the second straight season and improbably doing so in a season where former head coach Tim Beckman was fired a week before the schedule began. Bill Cubit has done a nice job as the interim head coach and will look for that postseason-clinching win with games against Ohio State, Minnesota and Northwestern remaining.
Purdue, just days after it was reported that Darrell Hazell will be back as head coach next season, looked as bad as it has in three ugly seasons under Hazell. The Boilers dropped to 2-7 on the year and have back-to-back road games at ranked Northwestern and Iowa teams before the season-closing matchup with Indiana.