Afterward, Coach Ron Zook was understandably in a positive mood.
"What a difference a week makes. I'm proud of our guys. After last week, they understood we had to go to work, the season wasn't over. I thought the leadership was good. The juniors and seniors led not only example but by (reminding) what it was gonna be like."
Freshman Jason Ford flashed excellent running ability, scoring three touchdowns while gaining 173 yards in 19 carries, a 9.1 yard average. He broke tackles repeatedly as he gained yardage on extra effort. And he showed speed with a 41 yard burst for one of his touchdowns.
"He's a physical runner, a hard, tough runner to bring down," Zook explained. "Jason got hot, so I said let's leave him in there and let him go."
Quarterback Juice Williams and slot receiver Arrelious Benn continued to pad their lofty statistics in front of a Florida Citrus Bowl representative. Williams was an efficient 16 of 22 for 271 yards and three touchdowns while adding 30 net yards on the ground and one additional TD.
Benn broke his own record with his fourth straight game of 100 or more receiving yards, collecting 130 on seven catches. He also added a touchdown.
Illinois established the tone of the game early. Indiana won the toss and elected to receive the opening kick of Illini freshman Derek Dimke, returning it only to the 21 yard line. Two runs netted one yard before defensive end Derek Walker claimed the first of his two sacks of Indiana quarterback Ben Chappell on the night.
Illinois' first offensive play was a beautiful 60 yard bomb from Williams to Will Judson, who carried it to the one yard line. Faking a plunge into the line, Juice flipped a short pass to wide open tight end Michael Hoomanawanui for seven points.
Indiana showed signs of making it a game in the first half despite playing without star quarterback Kellen Lewis, who didn't dress due to a high ankle sprain. But all-star kicker Austin Starr missed two straight field goals to keep the momentum on Illinois' side.
That's when Ford began to assert himself. Three consecutive runs netted 37 yards. A Juice 13 yard scramble preceded his pass to Jeff Cumberland for a 20 yard touchdown to make it 14-0. Freshman left tackle Corey Lewis saw his first action on the year, splitting time with Xavier Fulton. So at times, the two tackles spots for the Illini were manned by raw freshmen Lewis and Jeff Allen.
Two straight Illini defensive penalties kept the Hoosiers' next drive alive long enough for running back Brian Payton to scamper 35 yards to make it a 7 point game. IU would get no closer.
The halftime score was 28-7 as Ford, Williams and Benn continued to eat up hugh chunks of real estate. Ford made a fine spin move to score from 5 yards out, and Juice found Arrelious open for a 37 yard touchdown.
Receiving the ball to begin the second half, the Illini put together an 80 yard drive in just five plays to put the game out of reach. The touchdown was scored by Ford as he broke through a big hole on the sideline and raced untouched 41 yards for the score. Matt Eller missed his only extra point on the night, but 34-7 probably demoralized the Hoosiers according to Zook.
"I think what may have been the nail in the coffin was when we were able to take it down there on the first series in the third quarter and stick it in there."
To their credit, Indiana kept battling. A Starr field goal closed the gap by three points. But the Illini followed it with a 76 yard drive in 8 plays. Runs by Daniel Dufrene and Ford, and receptions by Dufrene, freshman tight end Hubie Graham, and Cumberland preceded Juice's 8 yard dash to score.
Freshman defensive tackle Corey Liuget collected a fumble near the end of the third quarter, giving the Illini good field position. Disdaining the pass to not embarrass the Hoosiers, runs by Juice, Dufrene and Ford accumulated one first down after another. On the first play of the fourth quarter, Ford dove over from the one to make it 48-10. Liuget was a blocker on the play.
Starr added one final three pointer for Indiana after an exchange of fumbles. But freshman A. J. Jenkins, who scored twice on pass receptions last week against Minnesota, took the following kickoff 96 yards untouched to make the final score 55-13. Fellow freshman Mikel LeShoure added the final block near the 10 yard line, allowing Jenkins to cut back and score.
Overall, the Illini accumulated an impressive 563 yards of total offense, compared with 313 for Indiana. The yardage was almost evenly matched between runs and passes. They had 27 first downs compared with 18 for the Hoosiers. However, Indiana led in time of possession as the Illini scored quickly.
Besides Ford's and Williams' rushing totals, quarterback Eddie McGee came off the bench in the fourth quarter to speed for 55 yards in just three carries. Dufrene added 31 yards, and LeShoure and Troy Pollard each collected 7 yards in their only carries.
Cumberland caught two balls for 37 yards. Graham caught his first two Illini passes for 25 yards. Dufrene and Hoomanawanui each had two receptions as well. Judson's 60 yard bomb was his only opportunity on the night.
The Illini defense gave up a few big gainers, but overall they were dominant. They harassed Chappell into frequent bad throws as he was able to complete only 12 passes in 29 attempts. He was sacked four times, twice by Walker and once each by Liuget and Clay Nurse. Walker also added a tackle for loss, one of 9 overall by the Illini.
The Illini players needed this win badly, and so did the fans. It was a complete victory as all those who played contributed. And the big win was accomplished in front of a capacity crowd and a handsome group of recruits. Those visiting included defensive end Craig Drummond, linebacker Tariq Edwards, linebacker Darryl Lee and receiver Jheranie Boyd. And it appeared either quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase or his look-alike attended.
Coach Zook is happy, and he wants his team to be happy and enjoy the victory. But come Monday, thoughts of traveling to face a talented Wisconsin squad must be uppermost in their minds.
"We have a lot of guys who are continuing to improve. We were able to get a lot of young guys playing time today, which is gonna help us down the road. But they understand next week is a big, big game."