Rapid Reaction: Northwestern defeats Illinois 24-14

Bobby Pillote, Gameday Editor


What went right

It wasn’t always pretty, but Northwestern prevailed over Illinois on Saturday, winning 24-14. The Wildcats have 10 wins for the fourth time in program history.

A passing offense that has looked anemic for much of the season showed signs of life early on, with redshirt freshman Clayton Thorson finding open receivers deep down field. Junior Austin Carr led the way with three catches for 61 yards, including a 48-yard reception on a deep post.

But, once again, it was ultimately Justin Jackson who put the offense on his back. The sophomore running back ran for 172 yards and a touchdown on 37 carries, moving to sixth all-time on NU’s career rushing yards list.

And the defense continued to do its part in a close game, suffocating the Illinois offense. Quarterback Wes Lunt was limited to 20-of-41 for 241 yards, and running backs Ke’Shawn Vaughn and Josh Ferguson combined for just 102 yards on the ground. The Fighting Illini were also afflicted by numerous drops.

What went wrong

The offense sputtered in the second half, scoring just 3 points and failing to capitalize on an opportunity to make a statement against a rival opponent. Jackson seemed to be the only reliable option, with Thorson throwing an interception on a tipped pass and sophomore running back Solomon Vault fumbling to give the Cats two turnovers.

Senior cornerback Nick VanHoose also saw a scary moment in the first half, collapsing to the ground after being kneed in the head by sophomore linebacker Nate Hall. VanHoose lay motionless for a time, but eventually sat up before being carted off the field and returned to the sideline in street clothes for the second half.

What it means

Whatever slim chance the Cats had at a New Year’s Six bowl got even slimmer, but with 10 wins NU has almost certainly punched a ticket to the Outback Bowl, played January 1 in Tampa, Florida.

The 2015 iteration of the team is also tied as the most successful in history, in terms of wins, and a win in the bowl game will make this the most successful NU squad ever. It’s not a Rose Bowl or a Big Ten Championship, but that the Cats are still playing for history should keep fans excited over the next month.

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