Final: Illinois 48, Purdue 14
End 3Q: Illinois 41, Purdue 7
Ke'Shawn Vaughn has had his best game as an Illini. His 78-yard TD run showed his burst and runaway ability. He has a career-high 161 yards on 10 carries. Illinois' future at running back is bright with Vaughn, Dre Brown and commit Kentrail Moran. This is a bull-dozing -- much-needed for the Illini.
Illinois 34, Purdue 7; 2:30 left 3Q
Josh Ferguson is a video game today. He's made something out of nothing several times, and Cubit committed to the run on that drive, running on eight of the 11-play, 81-yard drive. Ferguson (133 rushing yards, 41 receiving yards) and Vaughn (83 yards) are dominating. Oh, and Wes Lunt is back in. But he may not stay in for long. This one is all but over.
Illinois 27, Purdue 7; 11:01 left 3Q
Wes Lunt ran into the locker room just before the second half started with a right thumb injury (throwing hand). He's back on the sideline, but Chayce Crouch ran the first drive and had a bit of success, including a 17-yard run to open the drive and a 25-yard pass to Desmond Cain. But the drive stalled and Zalewski's made FG streak ended at six as he pushed a 42-yarder wide right.
HALF: Illinois 27, Purdue 7
Purdue has life following that final drive, but Illinois ended a very encouraging half with a huge answer -- a Wes Lunt 20-yard TD pass to Desmond Cain to end a 7-play, 72-yard drive in 43 seconds. They moved the ball and limited Purdue for all but one drive. The Illini offense has some confidence with Josh Ferguson back, and the Illini defensive line has dictated most of the game.
Total yards: Illinois 295, Purdue 107
Yards per play: ILL 6.7, PUR 2.8
Rushing yards: ILL 139, PUR 65
Penalty yards: PUR 24, ILL 10
Time of possession: ILL 15:01, PUR 14:59
3rd downs: ILL 2-7, PUR 4-10
Redzone: ILL 2-2, PUR 1-1
Turnovers: PUR 1, ILL 0
TFLs: ILL 4, PUR 2
Wes Lunt: 17-for-29, 156 yards, 3 TDs
Ke'Shawn Vaughn: four carries, 79 yards; Josh Ferguson 12 touches, 92 yards
Desmond Cain: 5 catches, 49 yards, 1 TD; Malik Turner 2 catches, 36 yards, 1 TD
Clayton Fejedelem 9 tackles (8 solo); TJ Neal 2 TFL (1 sack); Taylor Barton 1 INT
Illinois 20, Purdue 7, 0:57 left 2Q
Purdue's offense finally put together a drive and went up-tempo. Illinois missed several tackles on the drive as Purdue went 71 yards on 15 plays.
Illinois 20, Purdue 0, 5:23 left 2Q
Illinois led for only 10:30 of a possible 240 minutes during the first four Big Ten games. They've led the entire way today and are dominating a bad Purdue team. Josh Ferguson took a well-called screen pass for 12 yards as the Illini finally cashed in in the red zone. Ferguson has 92 yards on 12 touches. Illinois looks like it will have three chances to clinch a bowl bid.
Wes Lunt now is 15-for-26 for 127 yards and 2 TDs. The Illini have outgained Purdue 223-41.
Illinois 13, Purdue 0, 8:41 left 2Q
Illinois continues to struggle to finish drives in the end zone. But Taylor Zalewski has made six straight field goals, after hitting a 33-yard chip shot.
llinois has 24 pass attempts to eight rushes -- one of them a Wes Lunt first down scramble, and a Lunt sack. So basically, the Illini have 26 pass plays to six run plays. Purdue is stacking the box and playing soft man coerage. But the Illini have had success running. Their 65 rushing yards are more than they had in entire games against Penn State (37), Wisconsin (55) and Iowa (46).
The Illini defense is simply dominating. Purdue has just 14 yards on 17 plays (0.8 yards per play). Illini DC Tim Banks is mixing up defenses and forcing QB David Blough to beat them, but not without facing pressure.
END 1Q: Illinois 10, Purdue 0
Total yards: ILL 142, PUR 25
Yards per play: ILL 6.8, PUR 1.6
Illini play calls: 16 passes, 5 runs
Wes Lunt: 8-for-15, 88 yards, 1 TD
Ferguson: six touches, 46 yards
Illinois 10, Purdue 0; 4:48 left 1Q
Josh Ferguson's return could not be understated, and he's showing why early. He has 41 total yards in the first 10 minutes and just gives the Illini offense so much versatility. But Cubit called three straight passes, which resulted in three straight incompletions. So the Illini settled for a long field goal attempt that Zalewski drilled.
Illinois 7, Purdue 0; 11:41 left 1Q
Well, where's that offense been? The Josh Ferguson effect? Or the Purdue effect?
The Illini went five yards, 76 yards, culminating in a 32-yard touchdown pass from Wes Lunt to Malik Turner. Ferguson had two touches for 12 yards on the drive, but his presence opens things up for the Illini. Ke'Shawn Vaughn had a 29-yard run and Bill Cubit used a different formation on each play.
10 minutes to kickoff
Not a huge homecoming crowd...
30 minutes to kickoff
Martin O'Donnell mentioned that it's important for the Illini to get off to a good start. This team is fragile right now and an early score would give the Illini offense some confidence -- and give the defense some relief. The Illini defense has barely played with a lead during Big Ten play.
Actually, I just calculated it. During 240 minutes of Big Ten play, the Illini have had a lead for just 10 minutes and 30 seconds (!!!) -- 9:49 vs. Wisconsin and 0:41 vs. Nebraska.
Josh Ferguson looks pretty good in warmups. He shows no hesitation in tucking the ball or reaching up to catch the ball. But the true test will be that first hit on that shoulder.
45 minutes to kickoff
There's an interesting change to the Illini football depth chart today. DE Jihad Ward is listed as the starter at DT with Carroll Phillips listed as the starter at DE and Chunky Clements and Rob Bain as co-starters at DT. Now, I expect those five to rotate with Ward playing some at DE, but moving Ward inside and playing Phillips (2.0 sacks) more often gives Illinois a more disruptive and speedy group up front.
Also, James Crawford is listed as the starter at STAR over senior Eric Finney. Crawford, a sophomore, has more speed and size than Finney. Illinois seems to be prioritizing speed against Purdue's dual-threat quarterback, redshirt freshman David Blough.
I talked with Illini radio network analyst Martin O'Donnell before the game. I asked him if he ever experienced an AC sprain before, and he had a funny story behind it.
Illinois practiced a "win the game" play where they threw laterals to try to get in the end zone. On one during a Thursday practice, he received the ball and scored a touchdown -- and he leaped into the end zone to celebrate. Problem, though: he sprained his shoulder on the dive. He could barely lift his shoulder on Friday and feared he may miss the game. But he healed enough by Saturday to play in the game.
He said linemen can bettter handle AC sprains because they're pushing and don't need to raise their arms up as much as a running back or receiver. He said Ferguson's biggest issue likely will be taking hits to that shoulder. We might see how healthy he is early on if he shows no hesitation in lowering that shoulder.
90 minutes to kickoff
Illinois basketball season is just around the corner, including tomorrow's exhibition against UI-Springfield at the Praire Capital Convention Center. This is always a crazy time for media, who cover both sports, but it's one of the best times. So much action and so much content (including John Groce video from yesterday's media availability).
You'll hear a new voice at Illinois basketball games. After a long search process, the DIA finally announced its new public address announcer: Tim Sinclair.
As the in-house and very experienced candidate, Sinclair always was the favorite to win the job. You've heard his voice at some Illini athletic event -- he's done every sport -- including Illinois basketball games when former PA man Mike Cation (who did a phenomenal job and is now a professional tennis PA guy) missed some games.
I had the chance to catch up with Sinclair on my radio show -- you can listen to the podcast -- and he told me he applied for the job when Jim Sheppard stepped down. Sinclair started with Illinois a year later doing Illinois baseball games and he's been working Illinois events ever since. He also has worked for the Chicago Fire.
What's his style?
"The goal is to be excited and fun and those kind of things but not be over-the-top," Sinclair said, "and, man, that is a delicate line because you can hit it in a hurry. Sometimes, I have heard public address guys think that people are there to see them or hear them. That's the absolute last thing I want. My goal is going to be pretty much a classic style, but we're at a college basketball game and exciting things happen. When they do, I want to be excited with the crowd. My goal is to represent to an extent what the crowd is feeling when great things happen but not to the point it is a distraction. That'll be a learning experience for sure, but a fun one.
The one thing Sinclair has going for him: he doesn't have to follow in Sheppard's footsteps. Cation was unfairly criticized by some portions of the fan base because he wasn't Sheppard, an iconic voice in the community who everyone associated with Illinois athletics. Sheppard was great. Cation was too -- which is why he has a professional sports job now. Sinclair will do well too.
"I consider stuff like the guy who was the guard after Michael Jordan," Sinclair said. "No matter how good you are, you're never going to be that guy. There are always going to be people who compare and contrast. I know that's going to happen here too. It's one of those things where you can't compare stats of a public address guy. ...A lot of it is preference. I know there are going to be people who love it and people who hate it. That's part of the territory.
"I always feel like if people talk about me during or after the game, I have done something horribly wrong. It should be part of the atmosphere. It should be correct. It should be concise. It should be informative, but it shouldn't be the show. Those athletes on the floor are what everyone is there to see. If I can enhance that -- along with the Krush and the band and the cheerleaders -- and really make it an enjoyable experience."
2 hours to kickoff
Kudos to IlliniBoard.com's Robert Rosenthal for his leg work in counting the Illini drops this season. I told him I thought Cubit's number of 46 seemed low, and Robert's research proved that. By the way, bless Robert for putting in the hours to watch every Illini offensive possession. I'm sure that was painful, painstaking work. Please, read Robert's post here.
Here's an excerpt from his post
Dropped passes: 50
Total yards that would have resulted: 512 yards (!!!!!!)
First downs taken away: 23
Dropped touchdowns: Six (which would have totaled 42 points)
Points eventually scored on those drives: 17 (that’s 25 points taken off the board, and that doesn’t include Marchie’s drop at the 1 yard line on 4th and 2 against MTSU which would have clearly resulted in points)
There’s your season. There’s 83% of your offensive struggles. 23 first downs! Let that sink in for a moment. TWENTY THREE FIRST DOWNS. I read somewhere that we had 19 drops last season in 13 games. AND NOW 50 IN EIGHT GAMES. Wes Lunt’s current completion percentage: 55.6%. Wes Lunt’s completion percentage if we were on last year’s pace (1.5 drops per game instead of this ridiculous 6.3 drops per game): 65.8%
Good work by Robert puts into context just one huge reason for Illinois' struggles. But yes, continue to blame quarterback Wes Lunt for most of the Illini's struggles, if that's easier for you (sarcasm!).
Lunt's limitations -- immobility -- is just being exposed right now. A pocket passer needs a running game to be effective, especially when his receivers are playing so poorly. Teams are playing 2-man coverage, meaning the corners and linebackers are playing press coverage on the four Illini receivers with two deep safeties over the top reading Lunt. That means the Illini offensive line and running back should have a 6-on-5 advantage up front before reaching the safeties.
The offensive line is losing too many one-on-one battles and running back Ke'Shawn Vaughn is missing too many of the few opportunities he receivers. The return of Josh Ferguson and playing against one of the Big Ten's lower-level defensive lines -- Penn State has one of the country's best defensive lines, Wisconsin's is one of the most disruptive and Nebraska's Maliek Collins will be a first-round pick -- should (key word, should) help.
150 minutes until kickoff
Good morning from Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette, Ind.!
A much easier, quicker morning drive than last week's trip to State College -- 8.5 hours quicker to be exact. The press box in Ross-Ade Stadium is a huge improvement over Beaver Stadium, though Penn State is likely to undergo a renovation or re-build to their football facility that could cost $0.5 billion to $1 billion. They parked us near the golf course about a mile away from the stadium, but my colleague and friend Mark Tupper of the Decatur Herald and Review was a big fan of the shuttle ride over.
This has been a phenomenal fall weather-wise and we'll have another gorgeous afternoon here. Sunny and expected highs in the 50s. Winter is coming ... but man, I love our falls in the Midwest.
Purdue scheduled Illinois for its homecoming game, meaning they probably thought it was the best chance for a home win (more so than Minnesota or Nebraska -- Indiana is the finale). No surprise. After all, Purdue won 38-27 at Champaign last season. Despite homecoming, the crowd isn't expected to push much higher than a paid attendance of 35,000. Last week, the official attendance was 31,351. But observers say it was closer to 20,000.
Despite its embarrassing loss last week and Purdue's upset of Nebraska -- is any win over the Huskers an upset anymore? -- Illinois is listed as a 4-point favorite in Vegas today. A lot of that has to do with the return of running back Josh Ferguson. His presence simply changes the Illini offense, which I talk about in my preview. He boosts a running attack that is losing the line of scrimmage, as football analyst Micheal Young wrote. Wes Lunt told me Ferguson's return also would be a boost to the team morale, which is reeling a bit. But they know this is the most winnable game on the schedule. Purdue may have won last week, but it's still a bad team. But Illinois was a really bad team last week.
Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas has been pretty quiet recently. He appeared on WDWS-AM in Champaign on Saturday morning.
He doesn't say much about the coaching future of the football program but said he had seen progress with the Illini football team in competitive losses at Iowa and against Wisconsin, before Saturday's 39-0 loss at Penn State.
"You want to be in the pennant race (in November)," Thomas said. "You may not want it every year, but you want to be relevant."