CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — If he had it his way, David Blough would have been a wide receiver.
That was the Texan's plan until mother, LuAnn, had something to say about it. She went behind her son’s back to tell the coach her son would be a quarterback. (Smart move by mom.)
Saturday at Memorial Stadium, the Purdue quarterback finally got a chance to show off his hands. Boilermakers coach Jeff Brohm dug into his bag of tricks to dial up a reverse pass. Terry Wright went in motion and took the handoff from Blough. He pitched it to quarterback-turned-receiver Jared Sparks, who found Blough wide open for a touchdown.
“That was probably the best throw all day,” Blough joked of Sparks' pass.
During Purdue's 46-7 victory at Illinois, there were plenty of throws that could rival it, as the Boilermakers' offense kicked into the next gear. They executed trick plays. They gashed the Illinois defense with nine chunk plays of 20 yards or more. They had balance.
Blough threw for 377 yards and three touchdowns against just one interception, while spreading the ball to 10 different targets. Isaac Zico hauled in five passes for 127 yards and two touchdowns, Rondale Moore racked up 101 receiving yards and a touchdown and running back D.J. Knox added the balance with 17 carries for 150 yards.
The result? Purdue’s most lopsided Big Ten victory since legendary coach Joe Tiller’s final game. By the end of it, Purdue had tallied more than 600 yards of total offense and set a new offensive benchmark in the Jeff Brohm era with the highest point total since 2015 (55 points vs. Nebraska).
“Playing a rivalry game on the road at Illinois, it was an important game for us,” Brohm said. “Illinois had been playing well. Luckily for us, we played well overall.”
When he was hired, Brohm promised to bring an explosive offense that featured the quarterback and scored points in bunches. As the mid-point of Year 2 arrives, the offense is inching closer to the coach’s expectations.
The Boilermakers (3-3, 2-1 Big Ten) have now climbed out of the 0-3 hole they dug for themselves. With a three-game winning streak, Purdue has now reached .500 for the first time all season. Illinois (3-3, 1-2 Big Ten) drops to .500.
Illinois scored first to jump out to an early 7-0 lead, and Purdue responded with an offensive flurry. The offense marched down the field for a five-play, 75-yard touchdown in just 1:42. The defense forced a three-and-out. Three-play, 65-yard touchdown drive in 1:35. Another Illinois three-and-out. Another Purdue touchdown.
It those six series didn't begin to put the game away, just before halftime, Blough hit Zico for a 42-yard touchdown to give the Boilers a 29-7 lead. From there, the rout was on.
“I challenged these guys,” Blough said. “There’s a SportsCenter Top 10 every night. People make great plays every day. Go make a great play.”
More than just the highlights, the lopsided result is, in its own way, another measuring stick moment for a Purdue program in the midst of a rebuild.
For years, Purdue and Illinois were mentioned in the same breath as Big Ten bottom feeders. Even now, after last year's 7-6 season and bowl victory, Purdue doesn’t get much respect. Nebraska scheduled Purdue for its homecoming game two weeks ago. This week, Illinois chose Purdue for its homecoming opponent.
“People keep scheduling us on homecoming. I don’t understand why people keep doing this,” Zico said. “Coming from high school and junior college, the teams we scheduled for homecoming, it was like, ‘Oh, easy win.’”
Game-by-game, Purdue is proving itself to be anything but an easy win for opponents. Saturday’s win represented another step in the climb out of the Big Ten basement, with an offense that's clicking at another level and a young defense that continues to get better with age.
“That’s the goal, to work your way up the ladder,” Brohm said. “While we didn’t get off to a good start, we’re finding a way to inch back in the picture. That’s what you want to do. ... We obviously have a ways to go, like some other teams. But to come into Illinois and go to Nebraska, those are big wins for us. We’re going to be proud of it.”
Purdue has successfully distanced itself from the Big Ten’s worst. Now, with No. 3 Ohio State on the horizon, the Boilers will have a chance to see how close they are to the Big Ten’s best.