Statistical Highlights: Northwestern vs. Illinois

John Paschall, Reporter

Thanks to the powers of TiVo, I was able to break down the first half in Northwestern’s blowout win versus Illinois.

Wrap it up

Though the Wildcats’ defense had a tremendous amount of success against a struggling Fighting Illini offense, there was a glaring issue that stood out: missed tackles. After Illinois’ second scoring drive, I counted 11 missed tackles over three drives (not counting the drive with the INT, considering it was only one play). If the Cats are going to take down an SEC team in their bowl game (or any team for that matter), they are going to need to shore up their tackling.

Drive breakdowns:

Let’s take an in-depth look at two particular drives, Illinois’ first possession and NU’s drive that put them up 24-13, and see what went right and wrong for NU.

Illinois’ first drive:

1-10: Illinois surprises NU and starts in the Wildcats’ offensive, only to see their play ruined when redshirt freshman running back Josh Ferguson drops the snap and is tackled for a loss by junior defensive end Tyler Scott.

2-12: Junior quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase runs a play action fake and just overthrew a wide open receiver junior Darius Millines to his left, which could have resulted in a big gain. Illinois is flagged for sideline interference, but NU declines the penalty.

3-12: Here’s where the momentum swung in favor of Illinois. Scheelhaase faces pressure with redshirt sophomore linebacker Chi Chi Ariguzo chasing after him to his right. Scheelhaase just gets the pass off to Millines, who breaks a tackle and pushes his way to the first down marker.

1-10: Scheelhaase hits junior Miles Osei on a bubble screen for 15 yards, escaping a blitz from Ariguzo.

1-10: Junior linebacker Damien Proby makes a nice play, shedding his blocker inside and tackling sophomore running back Donovonn Young  for no gain.

2-10: Scheelhaase completes a pass to Millines for 13, who ran an out route to the right. There seemed to be major confusion between senior linebacker David Nwabuisi and Scott, who dropped into zone coverage instead of rushing the passer.

1-10: Ferguson takes the handoff and, again, goes through 2 missed NU tackles and dashes for nine yards.

2-1: Scheelhaase passes to Ferguson on his right, who breaks 2 tackles and motors to 10 yards and a first down.

1-10: Option left toss to Ferguson who gains seven yards on the play.

2-3: Illinois called for holding.

2-13: Sophomore Jon Davis takes the handoff up the middle and picks up a chunk of yards back (9, to be exact).

3-4: Illinois runs option left again and Young follows his blockers, who do an impressive job of getting downfield, all the way to the end zone where he walks in.

NU’s big scoring drive:

1-10: Junior running back Venric Mark gets knocked down in the backfield for a loss of 1.

2-11: Junior quarterback Kain Colter runs a speed option right and keeps for 6 yards.

3-5: Colter drops back to pass but does what only Colter can do and scrambles for 8 yards and a first down.

1-10: Junior superback Tim Riley takes the handoff up the middle for 7 yards. 

2-3: Riley again gets the carry for a gain of 4 and a first down. 

1-10: Colter runs an option right and times it just right to pitch to Mark for a big gain of 17 yards.

1-10: Senior running back Tyris Jones gets shut down in the backfield for a loss of 2 yards.

2-12: Here’s where the offensive lineman takes over. Sophomore center Brandon Vitabile makes a fantastic block on the outside to help seal a lane for Mark to cut through, resulting in a gain of 18 yards.

1-Goal: Mark shakes and bakes his way for 3 yards.

2-Goal: Sophomore right tackle Jack Konopka makes a key block on the left end to create room for Mark into the end zone where he plows through a defender and puts NU up top 23-14. Not once on that drive did NU complete a pass.

Quick hits:

  • The victory over Illinois was the first time NU did not allow any points in the second half this year and the first time since they played Illinois State in 2010.
  • The Cats won their season finale for the first time since 2009.
  • NU had its most rushing attempts of the year last week with 67.
  • The Cats have put up double-digit points in 72 straight games.

— John Paschall