Rapid Reaction: Northwestern uses epic rushing attack in dominant win over in-state rival Illinois
Final Score: Illinois 10, No. 14 Northwestern 28
Brief Recap: Well, Northwestern certainly turned it on after some early miscues to roll to a dominant win over Illinois. In the first quarter, Illinois forced an early turnover and dominated time of possession for a 3-0 lead. Unfortunately, the Wildcats woke up in the second quarter and rattled off 28-unanswered points to build a huge lead it would not relinquish.
Key Player: After entering Saturday’s game with just 32 yards on the season, Northwestern leaned on freshman running back Cam Porter against Illinois. He led the team with 24 carries and gained 142 yards and two touchdowns in the game. All three categories were by far career-best numbers as the freshman looks to be a key contributor moving forward.
Key Moment: Whenever Pat Fitzgerald and his coaching staff decided to stop throwing the ball. Starting quarterback Peyton Ramsey finished 7-for-12 passing for 82 yards and a touchdown before giving way to backup Andrew Marty once the game was in hand. But Marty did not register a passing attempt as the Wildcats churned it up on the ground. The decision was wise due to the worsening game conditions, but it was also wise because Illinois’ depleted defense proved unable to slow down Northwestern’s rushing attack.
Key Stat: 411 rushing yards by Northwestern, the largest total by the Wildcats in 17 years. The team ran the ball 58 times and averaged 7.1 yards per carry as they ran at, over, and through a depleted and shorthanded Illini defense.
What it means for Illinois: The Illini fall to 2-5 heading into Champions Week after finishing with six wins in 2019. All things considered, it is hard to know how this year could have gone. Starting quarterback Brandon Peters tested positive for COVID-19 and missed three games. Backup quarterback Isaiah Williams missed two games as a result of contact tracing. Add that with the other absences and injuries sustained by the Illini and it is remarkable that Illinois captured two wins this season.
What it means for Northwestern: The Wildcats made it six straights wins over their in-state rivals and advanced to the B1G Championship Game without a letdown. Northwestern will advance to face Ohio State in Indianapolis with a shot at the Rose Bowl on the line. Pat Fitzgerald and company will undoubtedly enter that game as large underdogs, but they will also not care what the betting line will be for that game. And regardless of the outcome, Northwestern’s turnaround in 2020 has been nothing short of remarkable. After finishing 3-9 in 2019, Northwestern finishes the regular season at 6-1.