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Ryan Lankford’s big game could have been bigger

Updated: October 2, 2013 6:48AM

CHAMPAIGN — Senior Ryan Lankford, the closest thing Illinois has to a go-to receiver, disappeared during the second half of last season. He reappeared in a big way in the victory Saturday against Southern Illinois, catching six passes for a career-high 115 yards.

That’s more yards than he totaled in the final five games in 2012.

“I don’t feel too good about it,” Lankford said.

Why? Because he nearly had the game of his life against the Salukis.

Two plays after catching a 52-yard pass from Nathan Scheelhaase on the Illini’s opening possession, Lankford came wide open on a skinny post, and Scheelhaase delivered a perfect ball. But Lankford dropped what should’ve been an easy 33-yard touchdown.

One possession later, a holding call on tackle Corey Lewis negated a touchdown grab by Lankford.

“I’m not going to stop working,” Lankford said.

He’d better not stop because he’s had plenty of drops — and a disappearing act — before.

Backfield battle

In theory, starting running back Donovonn Young and change-of-pace backup Josh Ferguson are sensible complementary parts. Young is built like a linebacker; Ferguson is smaller and quicker.

But Ferguson was so much better than Young on Saturday. He hit the hole much harder and shined as a receiver, taking a screen pass 53 yards for a score. Young also struggled all game in pass protection.

“Josh has to get snaps,” ­offensive coordinator Bill Cubit said. “He’s a dynamic guy.”

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