Halftime Reaction: Illinois 26, Northwestern 7

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Halftime Reaction: Illinois 26, Northwestern 7

Senior quarterback Trevor Siemian watches from sideline during the first half of Northwestern's game against Illinois. In Siemian's absence, NU's quarterbacks combined to go 3 for 9 for a total of 6 yards.

Senior quarterback Trevor Siemian watches from sideline during the first half of Northwestern's game against Illinois. In Siemian's absence, NU's quarterbacks combined to go 3 for 9 for a total of 6 yards.

Nathan Richards/Daily Senior Staffer

Senior quarterback Trevor Siemian watches from sideline during the first half of Northwestern's game against Illinois. In Siemian's absence, NU's quarterbacks combined to go 3 for 9 for a total of 6 yards.

Nathan Richards/Daily Senior Staffer

Nathan Richards/Daily Senior Staffer

Senior quarterback Trevor Siemian watches from sideline during the first half of Northwestern's game against Illinois. In Siemian's absence, NU's quarterbacks combined to go 3 for 9 for a total of 6 yards.

Bobby Pillote, Assistant Sports Editor

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The bad

Northwestern is losing to Illinois. That about sums it up, but read on if you’re able to stomach the details.

Junior quarterback Zack Oliver had fans longing for the injured Trevor Siemian, which is saying quite a bit. Oliver had more turnovers (four) than completions (two) and looked every bit like a player making his first career start. On a 3rd-and-3 in the first quarter, he had open running room in front of him but slid short of the first down, forcing the Wildcats to punt.

On the other side of the ball, NU’s patchwork defense was splitting at nearly every conceivable seam. With junior starters Nick VanHoose and Traveon Henry injured along with key reserves redshirt freshmen Godwin Igwebuike and Marcus McShepard, the Cats had to play musical chairs with their depleted secondary.

Redshirt freshman Kyle Queiro got the nod at cornerback, shifting senior Jimmy Hall to safety. Junior Drew Smith filled in for Hall at linebacker, and season-long special teams player junior Jarrell Williams saw his first major defensive action of the season as the nickel corner.

It wasn’t pretty. NU was burned on back-to-back speed-option runs (one of which was called back due to a penalty) and also got beaten for 40 yards on a pop pass. At times the defense had trouble even lining up correctly, with the Cats burning a touchdown when Williams was standing in a linebacker position.

The good

Freshman running back Solomon Vault had an impressive kickoff return for a touchdown in the second quarter to somehow keep NU in the game. His partner in crime, freshman back Justin Jackson, was the only productive member of the offense, carrying 10 times for 48 yards.

Outlook

With a bowl game on the line, the Cats are performing like they have nothing to play for. It’s still a winnable game, but NU needs to make some serious halftime adjustments.

Email: robertpillote2017@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @BobbyPillote

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