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Rapid Recap: Northwestern 42, Illinois 21

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Rapid Recap: Northwestern 42, Illinois 21

Justin Jackson dives into the end zone. The junior running back rushed for 173 yards and three touchdowns against Illinois.

Justin Jackson dives into the end zone. The junior running back rushed for 173 yards and three touchdowns against Illinois.

Rachel Dubner/Daily Senior Staffer

Justin Jackson dives into the end zone. The junior running back rushed for 173 yards and three touchdowns against Illinois.

Rachel Dubner/Daily Senior Staffer

Rachel Dubner/Daily Senior Staffer

Justin Jackson dives into the end zone. The junior running back rushed for 173 yards and three touchdowns against Illinois.

Max Schuman, Sports Editor

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Football


Both Northwestern’s regular season, and its game against Illinois on Saturday, were rarely pretty.

But the Wildcats (6-6, 5-4 Big Ten) emerged from the ups and downs of their final regular season game bowl eligible, extending their season by eking out a 42-21 win over the Fighting Illini (3-9, 2-7).

NU got off to a fast start behind its run game, as redshirt freshman running back John Moten scored two touchdowns in the first quarter and junior running back Justin Jackson added another to give the Cats a 21-0 lead early in the second quarter.

Illinois fought back later in the half, though, stringing together touchdown drives of 78 and 83 yards to cut the lead to 21-14 by halftime. The Fighting Illini had a chance to tie the game on their first drive after the break, but lllinois running back Reggie Corbin fumbled inside NU’s 10-yard line and junior safety Godwin Igwebuike picked it up to end the threat.

On the ensuing drive, the Cats found their footing again behind a rushing attack that put up 278 total yards on the day. Jackson broke a 54-yard touchdown run to put the host’s edge back to two scores, and NU closed the game out from there.

The Cats’ victory kept the Land of Lincoln trophy in Evanston after NU won it with a win over the Fighting Illini at Soldier Field last November. The win also secured a place in a bowl game for the Cats, their second-straight postseason appearance.

Takeaways

1. NU has offensive line problems. The line blocked well on running plays, but Illinois frequently got to sophomore quarterback Clayton Thorson when the Cats went to the air. The Fighting Illini notched five sacks, one week after NU surrendered seven to Minnesota, and the pressure kept Thorson from finding a rhythm for much of the day. The Cats’ young group on the line has serious room for improvement following today’s game.
2. It has problems in the secondary, too. NU has seen both good and bad performances from the back line of its defense this season as it has dealt with injuries and inexperience. Today was one of the bad ones, as Illinois quarterback Wes Lunt threw for 377 and two touchdowns. The Fighting Illini aren’t known as an elite passing offense by any stretch, but they were able to exploit the Cats through the air for much of the game.
3. Still, let’s go bowling. Seemingly every game this season has brought a new list of strengths and weaknesses for NU. Saturday’s was no exception, as the Cats’ troubles in pass protection and the secondary were balanced by a powerful, productive run game that was too much for Illinois to handle. Regardless of the path it took, NU did what it needed to reach bowl eligibility, and now it will wait until next week to learn its postseason destination.

Stats

-Jackson had 173 yards and three touchdowns on 21 carries, moving into second in program history in rushing with 3905 yards. Damien Anderson holds the all-time record with 4485 yards on the ground.

-Senior wide receiver Austin Carr caught just four passes for 26 yards.

-Junior linebacker Anthony Walker was credited with a team-leading nine tackles, two pass breakups and a forced fumble.

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated Illinois’ final record. It finished the season 3-9.

Email: maxschuman2018@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @maxschuman28

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