Rapid Reaction: Illinois 47, Northwestern 33


Nathan Richards/Daily Senior Staffer

Junior quarterback Zack Oliver drops back to throw. Making his first career start, Oliver turned the ball over five times in Northwestern’s 47-33 loss to Illinois.

Alex Putterman, Sports Editor

For the second consecutive year, the Wildcats (5-7, 3-5 Big Ten) will not be playing in the postseason.

Northwestern’s 47-33 loss to Illinois (6-6, 3-5) on Saturday at Ryan Field kept the team from bowl eligibility and provided a frustrating end to a difficult season.

On one hand, the Cats’ poor performance was understandable: Senior quarterback Trevor Siemian and senior receiver Kyle Prater missed the game with injuries, as did four key players from NU’s defensive secondary.

Many of Saturday’s miscues came from players who shouldn’t have been playing anyway. Most notably, junior quarterback Zack Oliver was responsible for five turnovers, throwing three interceptions and fumbling twice. His final statistics (23-of-38 for 221 yards and a touchdown) otherwise look respectable, only because of big yardage accumulated late in the game, after it really mattered.

On the other hand, losing handily to a bottom-of-the-barrel Big Ten team is never acceptable. It wasn’t only the replacements who played poorly, as Illinois quarterback Reilly O’Toole and running back Josh Ferguson repeatedly gashed the NU defense.

As far as positives, running back Justin Jackson concluded his freshman season in style, gaining 130 yards on the ground with two touchdowns and tallying 46 more yards receiving.

Fellow freshman running back Solomon Vault returned a kick for a touchdown in the second quarter.

Beyond that, it was a disappointing end to the season. Missing a bowl game prevents the Cats from ending the season positively and also costs them valuable bowl practices.

With an solid class of seniors departing, questions about next year begin immediately.

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Twitter: @AlexPutt02