Rapid Reaction: Illinois upends Northwestern to end 3-game skid
Illinois ended a 3-game losing streak with a convincing 41-3 win over Northwestern Saturday at Ryan Field.
The Illini had an outside shot at the B1G West title with Iowa losing to Nebraska on Friday. But Purdue’s win over Indiana punched the Boilermakers’ ticket to Indy next Saturday to face Michigan.
Chase Brown, the nation’s leading rusher coming in, was banged up in the first half and wasn’t his usual self. Reggie Love III filled in admirably, scoring a TD and rushing for 85 yards on the day. Brown finished with 60.
Kicker Caleb Griffin knocked through a pair of FGs for the Illini, and the visitors also pulled out some trickery with a fake punt for a 1st down in the opening 30 minutes.
The Illinois defense was once again its menacing self, shutting down the Northwestern offense while picking off Cats’ QB Cole Freeman 4 times.
Tommy DeVito scored on a 1-yard run with under 2 minutes left in the opening half, padding the Illini lead to 17-0. At that rate, the Wildcats were in deep trouble trying to play catch-up against the B1G’s 2nd-ranked defense.
Fitting end to a tough stretch for Illinois
Although the Illini (8-4, 5-4) won’t head to Indy after the win, it’s a fitting way to end a tough stretch. Head coach Bret Bielema lost his mother Marilyn the week prior to the Michigan game. This week, Bielema’s father-in-law, Greg Hielsberg, passed away. It’s been a trying couple of weeks for the Bielema family.
His team played hard in its finale. Coming off 3 straight 1-possession losses, Illinois left no doubt Saturday. The defense was all over the field, forcing 5 Cats’ turnovers and scoring themselves back-to-back times in the 3rd quarter to make it 34-0. It was an emphatic way to end the regular season for such an impressive unit under DC Ryan Walters.
It was the 7th time this season Walters’ defense has held its opponent to 10 points or less. Two of the mainstays in the defensive backfield — Sydney Brown and Devon Witherspoon — had takeaways. Brown had a pair and grabbed his B1G-leading 6th INT of the season.
The Illini will await their bowl fate next week. Illinois finished its best regular season in 16 years with the 8-4 mark. Only the Rose Bowl team of 2007 has finished with more wins over that span.
Northwestern (1-11, 1-8), which won its season-opener 31-28 over Nebraska back in late August across the pond in Dublin, went its final 11 games without another win. It was Pat Fitzgerald’s worst season since he took over as head coach of the Wildcats in the 2006 season.