Rapid Reaction: Northwestern 37, Illinois 34

John Paschall, Assistant Gameday Editor

What went right:

Junior quarterback Trevor Siemian must have still been in Thanksgiving mode on Saturday against Illinois because he was carving up the Illini secondary. He threw for 414 yards on 31-for-44 passing with 4 touchdowns. It’s an encouraging sign heading into next year considering his up-and-down season. It’ll be interesting to see if he’s given the keys to the offense or if he is sharing them again.

The wide receivers came to play today.

Junior Christian Jones had a career day with 13 catches for 182 yards and 2 touchdowns, including an incredible end zone corner grab. Senior Rashad Lawrence went out with a bang, posting 5 catches for 112 yards and a touchdown. The unit finally did what it needed to do: make plays. There were a lot of openings in the secondary and Siemian and his receivers capitalized.

Give the offensive line some credit. For most of Saturday, the group gave Siemian some time to throw and pick apart the Illini defense. While the offensive line struggled at times to create holes in the rushing attack, it provided enough of a push to convert on some third down and short yardage opportunities.

What went wrong:

That fake field goal attempt was horrendous. Props to coach Pat Fitzgerald for calling a trick play, but, man, that was ugly.

The defense went back to its bend but don’t break mentality. But today, it broke a little more than it had this season. The secondary had some holes in coverage and some defenders took poor angles on making tackles on Illini runners. The strong performances from the entire season, however, will overshadow today’s average game.

What it means:

It’s over. It’s finally over.

Fitzgerald should put all the memories from this season in a bottle and chuck it into Lake Michigan. It was nightmarish on every level and everyone on the team has to be glad this year is over. There’s a lot to be encouraged about heading into 2014. Senior running back Venric Mark will most likely return along with the entire offensive line. There will be hope in Evanston in 2014, once everyone forgets about the 2013 season.

— John Paschall