"I'm happy for our guys to get a win," Indiana coach Kevin Wilson said. "We talk a lot about bouncing back from adversity. I think it shows a lot of growth for us that we could weather that, settle down and put together some good drives."
Cody Latimer set career highs with 11 catches and 189 yards receiving and hauled in three touchdowns for Indiana (4-5, 2-3 Big Ten). However, much of the Hoosiers' season-high 650 yards of offense came on the ground, where they gashed Illinois' consistently problematic run defense for 371 yards and four scores.
Tevin Coleman carried 15 times for a career-high 215 yards, the most by a Hoosier in the last 10 seasons. The teams engaged in a back-and-forth shootout until Coleman's 75-yard run edged Indiana ahead 42-35 with 12:41 remaining.
"The development of our run game shows there is some maturity on offense," Wilson said. "We're not an overpowering team, but our passing ability sets up the run. That was a huge play for us."
It came one play after Illinois right tackle Corey Lewis, who rushed for 27 touchdowns as a high school senior, tied the game at 35 when he fell on Ferguson's fumble in the end zone for his first college score. Ferguson, who accounted for 139 yards of offense, lost the ball when attempting to leap over a scrum on second-and-goal.
The Illini couldn't capitalize.
"We are all disappointed," Illinois coach Tim Beckman said. "We've got three opportunities left."
Coleman has been a huge factor for Indiana after beating out Stephen Houston for the starting tailback job in preseason camp. Against the Illini, the sophomore from Tinley, Ill., continued his knack for big plays. He used blocks by pulling guard Jacob Bailey and slot receiver Shane Wynn to zip 64 yards to the end zone on Indiana's second snap of the day.
"We called his two long runs from the sidelines," Houston said. "He is my little brother. He does what he needs to do. I am proud of him."
Coleman came in leading the Football Bowl Subdivision with six rushes of at least 40 yards and upped that total to eight.
Illinois (3-6, 0-5) received a valiant effort from quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, who completed 38 of 57 passes for 450 yards and two touchdowns while adding 45 yards and a score on the ground. Receiver Steve Hull exploded for 224 yards and two touchdowns on nine receptions.
Illinois entered the game with the 70th-ranked offense, averaging 402 yards. By the break, the Illini had gained 288. They finished with 612 yards, but a struggling defense cost them a chance to break through for their first Big Ten victory since Oct. 8, 2011, which came at Indiana.
The Illini were never the same after Coleman's crowd-thrilling burst. On their ensuing possession, linebacker Steven Funderburk came unblocked on a third-and-10 blitz to force an incompletion. Then Beckman dialed up a fake punt that flopped on fourth down. Punter Justin DuVernois threw low and well short of the marker.
"I'll take the fault," Beckman said. "We'd been practicing that play for the last three weeks. If it would've worked we'd all be smiling now."
Two plays later, Houston rushed in from the 2-yard line to make it 49-35. Prior to that, neither side led by more than seven. Houston finished with 17 carries for 150 yards and two TDs.
Latimer surpassed his previous career highs of nine catches and 139 yards with a 50-yard TD reception from Nate Sudfeld on Indiana's fourth drive of the second half. The play also tied his career high of three touchdown catches and gave the Hoosiers a 35-28 lead.
The teams traded touchdowns on four consecutive possessions in the first quarter before defense prevailed in the second. Illinois kicker Taylor Zalewski was wide right on a 41-yard field goal try with 1:20 left in the half. Indiana held a 21-14 lead at intermission.
Hull got wide open on Illinois' first drive of the second half for a 54-yard reception that tied the game at 21. Sudfeld, who finished 20-of-27 for 267 yards and three TD passes, twice hooked up with Latimer for scores in the third quarter. Scheelhaase scrambled in from 14 yards out to briefly give Illinois its only lead of the day, 28-21.
Mitch Ewald kicked a 22-yard field goal with 5:25 remaining to provide the Hoosiers a 17-point lead, their largest in over a month. Ewald is 8-for-8 this season.
Indiana might have a tough time regrouping before traveling to Wisconsin next week with several Hoosiers leaving the game because of injury. Coleman was helped off midway through the fourth quarter after spraining an ankle. Starting defensive backs Tim Bennett, Mark Murphy and Greg Heban also missed time. Wilson said Bennett exhibited concussion-like symptoms. Center Collin Rahrig sat out with a back injury.