Final score: No. 22 Northwestern 42 Illinois 7
Believe it or not, Illinois actually put up a bit of a fight in the first half. The Illini made some nice defensive stops and was able to slow down Northwestern’s offense through the first two quarters and trailed just 14-7 at halftime.
But after that, things got out of control quickly.
The Wildcats outscored the Illini 28-0 in the second half, fueled by over 300 rushing yards. Justin Jackson finished the day with 144 yards and four Northwestern running backs accounted for a touchdown in the victory. Northwestern’s offensive line imposed its will on a depleted Illinois front and completely wore down one of the B1G’s worst teams.
It was quite a finish for the Wildcats, who were once 2-3 this season before cranking out wins in their final seven games.
Key play: Sack fumble recovered for a Northwestern touchdown
Illinois had the ball in the third quarter with an opportunity to tie the game at 14-14 with a good drive. But a worst-case scenario unfolded as Northwestern’s Joe Gaziano sacked Illini quarterback Cam Thomas, forcing a fumble. Sam Miller recovered the ball in the end zone, resulting in a Wildcats touchdown.
That score gave Northwestern a 21-7 lead and it was the last time Illinois showed any kind of competitiveness.
Stat of the game: Illinois’ three turnovers
For the Illini to win, they had to take care of the football. Against a defense that plays opportunistic and aggressive, Illinois needed to play mistake-free football. Obviously, that didn’t happen.
All three turnovers came in the second half and two resulted in touchdowns. That, alone, was enough to give Northwestern the upper hand.
What it means
First and foremost, this dreadful season is finally over for Illinois. The Illini finish with a 2-10 record, winless in B1G play and needing to make some drastic improvements in the offseason.
It’s a different story at Northwestern, which has been playing its best football recently. The Wildcats rattled off seven straight wins and will have the opportunity to get to the 10-win mark this year. They’ll also finish the regular season ranked in the College Football Playoff poll.
Considering how well Northwestern has played the last two months, it would’ve been nice to see how this team would’ve competed head-to-head with Wisconsin. But, the schedule is what it is and the Badgers took the early season match-up.
It was still an incredible conclusion to the year or Northwestern.