BY JEFF WASHBURN
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Illinois entered Saturday’s game at Purdue ranked last in the Big Ten in rushing, averaging 114.6 yards in all games and only 67.2 yards during its first four conference games.
But the Illini solved that problem for at least one week, getting 16 carries for 180 rushing yards and two touchdowns from Ke’Shawn Vaughn, 12 carries for 133 from Josh Ferguson — in his first game back from injury — and a total of 382 yards on the ground Saturday in a dominating 48-14 victory against Purdue.
Wes Lunt threw three first-half touchdown passes, and Illinois (5-4, 2-3) snapped a three-game losing streak.
The Illini came into this game with 917 total rushing yards and only 269 in their first four conference games. But they were playing a Purdue team that ranked last in rushing defense, allowing 183 rushing yards a game.
“You can tell the difference in our offense when Fergie is in there,” Illinois coach Bill Cubit said of the back who had been sidelined with a shoulder injury. “It’s a little bit different of an offense when he is in there. Ke’Shawn played really well, too. We also got some big plays from Wes in the passing game.
“Josh never exceeds my expectations. My expectations for him are pretty high. On third downs, he just makes things happen. Today just validates a lot of things we always talk about. You can be at the bottom of the barrel one minute, and at the top the next.”
Ferguson said he and Vaughn finally had a game together in which each could excel.
“We were just waiting on Vaughn to fix a few things, and he is starting to learn how to run in the Big Ten,” Ferguson said. “We’re very happy with what he has done. For me, I just wanted to get back out there today with my teammates. The offensive line played well, our quarterback play was awesome and we just executed well as a team.”
Illinois, which had scored 33 total points in consecutive losses to Iowa, Wisconsin and Penn State, drove 76, 58 and 72 yards for touchdowns during the opening 30 minutes, running 44 plays for 295 yards and 17 first downs before halftime. The Illini finished with 595 yards total offense.
“This feels great,” Lunt said. “Purdue had an extra guy in the box all day, and for Ferguson and Vaughn to find windows like that was impressive. Having a running game helps me out a ton. Being able to run on first and second downs and move the chains was huge for us.”
Purdue (2-7, 1-4), which defeated Illinois last season in Champaign and beat Nebraska this past Saturday, gained only 25 yards in the first quarter on homecoming and finished the opening half with 39 plays for 105 yards. Purdue finished with only 263 total yards.
“I thought we would execute better in all phases,” Purdue coach Darrell Hazell said. “We did not. We never got into any rhythm offensively, especially early. On defense, we gave up way too many big plays.”
The Illini took a 7-0 lead with 11:41 remaining in the first half on Lunt’s 32-yard touchdown pass to Malik Turner, capping a five-play, 76-yard drive that included a 29-yard Vaughn run to the Purdue 42.
Vaughn averaged 11.2 yards a carry, and Ferguson averaged 11.1. Lunt completed 19 of 33 passes for 169 yards and the three TDs.
Illinois increased its lead to 10-0 with 4:48 to go in the first quarter on Taylor Zalewski’s 46-yard field goal. That scoring drive included Ferguson’s 17-yard run to the Purdue 28.
Through one quarter, Illinois gained 142 yards.
Zalewski’s 34-yard field goal with 8:42 remaining in the second quarter extended the lead to 13-0. The drive was kept alive when Purdue free safety Robert Gregory was called for pass interference on a fourth-down play from the Boilermaker 28.
Illini safety Taylor Barton’s interception of Purdue’s David Blough at the Illinois 42 set up a five-play, 58-yard touchdown drive that gave the Illini a 20-0 lead. A personal foul face mask penalty against Boilermaker linebacker Jimmy Herman moved the ball to the Purdue 23. Two plays later, Lunt threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to Ferguson.
Purdue countered with its only opening half score, driving 71 yards in 16 plays with Blough running 3 yards for a touchdown with 57 seconds left in the half.
Lunt then capped his active first half with a 20-yard touchdown pass to Desmond Cain with 14 seconds remaining in the half. Vaughn’s 31-yard run to the Purdue 38 set up the score. That Illini drive covered 72 yards in seven plays.
Lunt finished the first half 17 of 29 for 156 yards and no interceptions. Ferguson and Vaughn each rushed for 72 yards during the opening half. Illinois entered ranked last in Big Ten rushing.
Blough, the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week, was 11 of 19 for 42 yards in an opening half in which his longest completion was for 9 yards. Blough finished 29 of 47 for 174 yards and was intercepted twice.
Illinois’ lead swelled to 34-7 with 2:30 left in the third quarter on Vaughn’s 6-yard touchdown run, capping an 11-play, 81-yard drive. Ferguson had rushes of 33, 19 and 10 yards in that drive.
With more than two minutes remaining in the third quarter, Ferguson had 12 carries for 133 yards.
Vaughn ran 78 yards for a touchdown with 1:41 to play in the third quarter, scoring on the first play from scrimmage after a Purdue punt, increasing the advantage to 41-7.
Blough’s 25-yard touchdown pass to DeAngelo Yancey with 10:42 remaining in the game sliced the deficit to 41-14. Frankie Williams’ 51-yard punt return to the Illini 25 set up the Boilermakers’ second touchdown.
Illinois running back Kendrick Foster ran 18 yards for the game’s final score with 1:47 remaining.