Rapid Recap: No. 14 Northwestern 28, Illinois 10

Cam+Porter+runs+the+football

Joshua Hoffman/Daily Senior Staffer

Cam Porter looks to make a move down the field. The freshman running back had a career day, rushing for 142 yards and two touchdowns in the Northwestern win.

Benjamin Rosenberg, Daily Senior Staffer


Football


For the second year in a row, the Northwestern-Illinois game was played in wet, dreary conditions. And for the second year in a row, the Wildcats used the weather to their advantage, grinding their way to a 28-10 victory to hold onto the Land of Lincoln Trophy for the sixth consecutive year.

Last November in Champaign, NU rushed for 378 yards on a whopping 65 attempts in a 29-10 win. This year, the No. 14 Cats (6-1, 6-1 Big Ten) exceeded that output, gaining 411 yards on the ground on 58 carries. The star of the show was not either of NU’s experienced backs — junior Isaiah Bowser or sophomore Drake Anderson — but true freshman Cam Porter.

Illinois (2-5, 2-5 Big Ten) came in averaging 210 rushing yards per game, and the visitors came out strong, twice driving deep into NU territory in the first quarter. But both times, the Cats’ defense stiffened, and the Fighting Illini only managed a single field goal to take an early 3-0 lead.

Then NU’s offense imposed its will on an Illinois defense that was missing six starters. Porter had a career day, helping set up the Cats’ first touchdown and scoring the second one himself. Porter’s 35-yard carry late in the first helped lead to a two-yard touchdown pass from graduate quarterback Peyton Ramsey to junior tight end Charlie Mangieri on the first play of the second quarter that gave NU the lead.

The Cats closed the half on an incredible 17-play, 64-yard drive that took up more than seven minutes and included three fourth-down conversions. Porter touched the ball on the first eight plays of the drive, and finished it off with a two-yard touchdown run on a direct snap to make it 14-3.

Porter picked up right where he left off in the second half, carrying seven times on a nine-play drive out of the locker rooms and finding the end zone from 18 yards out. Hull got in on the fun later in the third quarter, bursting through for a 32-yard touchdown run.

The Fighting Illini did find the end zone in the fourth, with backup quarterback Isaiah Williams connecting on a 46-yard touchdown pass to receiver Brian Hightower. But they would come no closer — NU held the ball for more than 21 out of 30 minutes in the second half, giving Illinois few chances to get back in the game.

Takeaways

1. NU finally managed to run the ball effectively. The Cats ran for 325 yards in their season-opening rout of Maryland, and were close to 150 yards on the ground in wins over Iowa and Nebraska. But in the three games after that, they managed no more than 80 rushing yards, averaging under two yards per carry. That changed Saturday against a depleted Illinois defensive front. With Porter leading the way, NU had its way against the Fighting Illini, averaging 7.2 yards per carry. Hull had his best game of the season, rushing for 149 yards, even though many of them came in garbage time.

2. The weather conditions played a big, big role. Both teams were extremely reluctant to throw the ball — the first half saw a combined 51 run plays and just 20 pass attempts. The ball was quite slippery and contributed to both teams missing possible interceptions, as well as an early fumble by sophomore running back Drake Anderson. Playing from behind, Illinois was forced to throw the ball more in the second half, but the wet conditions did them no favors. Fighting Illini quarterback Brandon Peters was 0-for-4 passing in the third quarter, with several drops hindering Illinois’ comeback attempt.

3. The Cats will have their work cut out for them in Indianapolis. As lopsided as Saturday’s stats were, it came against a banged-up Illinois team whose only wins were against Rutgers and Nebraska. Next week, NU will face No. 4 Ohio State for the Big Ten title, which needless to say is a much stiffer test. The Cats cannot afford to miss any tackles in open space — as they did several times early on Saturday — against the Buckeyes, who will be looking to win their fourth straight conference title and beat NU for the ninth consecutive time.

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Twitter: @bxrosenberg

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