Kai Higgins

Illinois running back Mike Epstein (26) runs the ball as Purdue's Kai Higgins (98) looks for the tackle in the second half Saturday in Champaign, Ill.

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Purdue’s offense put on a clinic Saturday at Memorial Stadium. During a 46-7 victory, the Boilermakers racked up more than 600 yards and set a new high point total in the Jeff Brohm era.

But when you look past the points and the touchdowns and the stats, there’s something else there. Just as the offense begins to kick into a new gear in Brohm’s second season, on the other side of the ball, there are signs the young defense is growing up, too.

“It’s always fun when you can score and then the defense gets the stops to get you the ball right back,” quarterback David Blough said. “That’s what happened today. Our defense made it easy on us. We only needed eight points to win. We really got to pour it on a little bit.”

Purdue’s defense faced a unique challenge. The Fighting Illini entered Saturday as the 13th-best rushing team in the country. Their spread attack, coordinated by longtime Rich Rodriguez assistant Rod Smith, highlights the quarterback with zone-read plays and other designed runs.

The Boilermakers responded by limiting Illinois to just 69 rushing yards. Fighting Illini quarterback A.J. Bush Jr. rushed for just 62 yards and was forced into obvious passing downs because of the lopsided margin.

“I’m proud of our defense,” Brohm said. “We’ve challenged them each week to get better. The great thing is, as coaches I think we’ve gotten better at being aggressive and attacking and taking some chances and give the multiple looks to get our players in better position.”

One such instance came when Purdue dialed up the pressure on third-and-goal.

Safety Jacob Thieneman blitzed off the edge to sack Bush. The 15-yard loss turned what should have been a chip-shot field goal into a 38-yard attempt Illinois promptly missed.

“We knew this week we were going to blitz this quarterback a lot to get some pressure on him,” Thieneman said. “When they’ve got a quarterback who can rush as well as he can, it adds another component we have to look out for, especially at safeties because the safeties are normally the ones accounting for the running quarterback.”

In addition to veterans like Thieneman, several of the young players have continued to emerge. First-year starters Cornel Jones and Giovanni Reviere each recorded a sack. Redshirt freshman corner Kenneth Major came up with his third interception of the season. That ties him with two others for the Big Ten lead.

“It’s visible on film,” Thieneman said. “A lot of the young guys, it’s clear they’re getting better every week. Every game, they’re getting the extra experiences. They’re making more and more plays for us.”

BIG-PLAY TREND CONTINUES

Purdue entered its bye week two weeks ago as the Big Ten’s best big-play offense, leading the conference in every chunk-play metric. Saturday, the Boilers added a few more to that list.

They produced nine plays of 20 yards or more. The biggest of the bunch included a 60-yard pass from Blough to Rondale Moore. Isaac Zico hauled in passes of 39 yards, 41 yards and 42 yards. D.J. Knox added rushes of 33 yards and 25 yards.

TRICKY

Brohm dug into his bag of tricks to produce one of the highlights of the game, a reverse pass from receiver Jared Sparks to quarterback David Blough. But it wasn’t the only one.

The Boilermakers ran a half trick play, where Blough faked a pitch to halfback D.J. Knox then gave the ball to walk-on fullback Alexander Horvath. Brohm also showed a unique wrinkle for the first time all year with Sparks lined up at quarterback.

INJURY UPDATE

Senior tight end Cole Herdman exited the game two weeks ago against Nebraska. He suited up for Saturday’s game but did not see action. At one point, the Boilermakers deployed three tight ends for a punt, but none of them were Herdman.

Mike DeFabo covers Purdue University for 13 papers in Indiana. A Western Pennsylvania native, Mike graduated from American University in Washington, D.C. He has previously worked at the Times West Virginian and the Northwest Herald.