Illinois 48, Purdue 14
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Illinois running back Josh Ferguson gained 174 total yards (133 rushing on 12 carries) in his return from a month-long absence (shoulder injury) and freshman running back Ke'Shawn Vaughn ran for a career-high 180 yards on 16 carries, including a 78-yard touchdown, as the Illini (5-4, 2-3 Big Ten) bull-dozed the Boilermakers (2-7, 1-4) on their homecoming. Ferguson and Vaughn are the first pair of Illinois running backs to each top 100 yards rushing in a game since Troy Pollard and Donovonn Young did so against Illini interim coach Bill Cubit's Western Michigan team in 2011. After leading for just 10:30 in the first 240 minutes of Big Ten play, the Illini (596 total yards) never trailed at Purdue. The Illini defense -- led by safety Clayton Fejedelem (13 tackles, 2 TFLs) -- dominated a Purdue offense that scored 55 points against Nebraska the week prior.
What it means
The Illini will have three opportunities to clinch bowl elgibility for the second straight year. The Illini will be heavy underdogs vs. Ohio State next week but could enter Minnesota as favorites. Purdue is one of the bottom four teams in the Big Ten, though -- Middle Tennessee was better -- so none of the remaining three games (Ohio State, at Minneota and Northwestern) will come as easy. But with Ferguson, the Illini should win at least one more.
What went right
Just about everything. The Illini run game set the tone and opened up opportunities for Wes Lunt (19-for-33, 169 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs) and the Illini passing game. Illinois didn't turn it over, kept penalties to a minimum and had no dropped passes. The Illini defense dominated Purdue redshirt freshman quarterback David Blough (92 passing yards on 32 pass attempts). Clayton Fejedelem continues to make his case for First Team All-Big Ten and is one of the best Illini tacklers since J Leman. Even Kendrick Foster scored a touchdown.
What went wrong
Talented Purdue freshman running back Markell Jones ran for 84 yards on 14 carries. Lunt missed the Illini's opening drive of the second half with a thumb injury -- but he returned for the next few drives. Taylor Zalewski's streak of six straight made field goal attempts ended when he missed a 42-yarder into the wind in the third quarter, but he went 2-for-3. Cubit probably kept Lunt and Vaughn in for a series too long -- I'm stretching for negatives here.
Star of the game
Josh Ferguson: The Illini running back changes the dynamic of the Illinois offense. He's the gamebreaker Illinois has sorely missed. He wins most one-on-one battles and is a threat in the pass game. He takes weight off of Vaughn's shoulders and opens up the passing attack by drawing attention away from the receivers.
The Illini (5-4, 2-3) may be 20-point underdogs in their final true home game of the season as they host No. 3 Ohio State, the defending College Football Playoff champions. Entering tonight's 7 p.m. home game against Minnesota, Urban Meyer is 28-0 all-time during Big Ten regular-season games with the Buckeyes. Illinois has pulled off upsets of Ohio State in the past, but given where this Illinois team is, this would be one of their greatest upsets. Realistically, Illinois just needs to get through next week healthy and make its bowl run at Minnesota the following week.