Illinois (5-4, 2-3) absolutely embarrassed the Purdue Boilermakers (2-7, 1-4) with an impressive 34-point win on Saturday. QB Wes Lunt threw for three touchdowns and no interceptions but the real story of the day was the performance of Illini backs Josh Ferguson and Ke'Shawn Vaughn. They combined to scamper for 313 yards on the ground and two touchdowns. The total offensive yardage was a very impressive 596 yards. Not to be outdone, the defense was extremely stout as well, stopping Purdue on fourth down twice and forcing two turnovers. In what was the team's strongest performance in months, the Illini started out strong with a five-play, one-minute touchdown drive to go up 7-0. From there they never looked back, eventually opening up a 34-point second half lead. Bill Cubit and company will return to Champaign for their final true home game of the season next weekend, needing only win in their next three games to reach a bowl invitation.
Here's what we learned from the team's trip to West Lafayette.
1. Josh Ferguson is the key to the offense
And while that's probably not a good thing if you want to consider the 2016 season and beyond, Bill Cubit's offensive unit starts and ends with the senior running back. Making his first start in over a month, Ferguson looked like he didn't miss a beat, eclipsing the century mark by rushing for 133 yards and gaining 41 additional receiving yards. Freshman back Ke'Shawn Vaughn, who started in Ferguson's absence, was an extremely effective second option (if you even want to call him that) as well. Having a solid run game is important for many reasons, but especially for an Illinois offense that desperately needed a spark. They got it today with over 380 total rushing yards, the most they've compiled in a conference matchup since 2010. It would be lovely if this continued as the team heads d own the stretch of the 2015 season and tries to gain bowl eligibility.
2. The receiving unit is starting to click
Much has been made about the lack of cohesion amongst the Illinois wideouts this season, but things were really clicking against Purdue on Saturday. It's hard to say how much of that could be attributed to the porous Boilermaker defense, but things were much cleaner regardless. For a unit that has topped 50 drops on the season (!!), having NONE was a beautiful sight for sore eyes. Three different players hauled in scores through the air: Malik Turner, Josh Ferguson, and Desmond Cain (who, need I remind you, was playing defensive back at Camp Rantoul).
3. Nebraska must be really, really bad
While this fact might be a little less relevant than the previous two, consider this: the Boilermakers scored 55 points last week and topped 450 yards of total offense while committing no turnovers against Nebraska. Now compare those statistics to their numbers from today? The Cornhuskers defense is definitely not the black shirts any more, folks. And let's not forget that Purdue hung 551 yards of offense on the orange and blue last year in Champaign. Of course this afternoon's performance also says a lot about an Illini defensive unit that is in the top 30 in the nation in yards per game and total defensive efficiency. They already have more turnovers in 2015 than they did in all of 2014. For Illinois, everything was reversed from last week in a positive manner. For Purdue, it was quite the opposite.
The Illini will welcome in No. 3 Ohio State next Saturday as they try to gain postseason eligibility.