FACTS & STATS: Site: Ryan Field (47,330) — Evanston, Illinois.
Television: ESPNU. Home Record: UI 5-2, NU 2-4. Away Record: UI 0-4, NU 3-2.
Neutral Record: UI 0-0, NU 0-0. Conference Record: UI 2-5, NU 3-4. Series
Record: Illinois leads, 54-48-5.
GAME NOTES: Bowl eligibility is at stake during Saturday afternoon’s matchup
between in-state rivals, as the Northwestern Wildcats host the Illinois
Fighting Illini in the regular-season finale for both Big Ten Conference teams
at Ryan Field.
The winner also takes home the Land of Lincoln Trophy, which replaced the 62-
year-old Tomahawk Trophy in 2009. Illinois leads the all-time series, 54-48-5,
although the teams have split the last four meetings.
Northwestern has recovered from a four-game slide by winning two straight.
After going on the road and beating 15th-ranked Notre Dame two weeks ago, the
Wildcats kept the momentum going with a 38-14 win at Purdue last Saturday.
Illinois notched a 16-14 win over Penn State on David Reisner’s 36-yard field
goal with eight seconds remaining. It was a much needed victory for a Fighting
Illini squad that entered that game on the losing end of five of their
previous six contests. But they are 0-4 on the road; a notable trend as they
attempt to end a two-year bowl drought.
Illinois has averaged a shade under 15 points over its past three games. On
the season, the unit ranks 89th nationally in scoring offense (24.7) and 106th
in total offense (353.2). The Illini did not exactly light up the scoreboard
against Penn State, but they did find a spark behind quarterback Reilly
O’Toole, who replaced ineffective starter Wes Lunt late in the first half.
O’Toole finished the day with 157 yards and a touchdown on 18-of-25 passing.
Just as important, there was no apparent dropoff in chemistry with freshman
wideout Mike Dudek, who hauled in a game-high 11 passes for 115 yards. Dudek
has a school freshman record 62 catches for 902 yards, and he leads all FBS
freshmen with 82 receiving yards per game. He is second in the nation among
all players with 10 plays of 15-plus yards in the fourth quarter.
Illinois has not fared much better on the defensive side of the ball this
season, ranking 103rd in scoring defense (34.0) and 112th in total defense
(472.7). But the Illini made strides last week, limiting Penn State to 15
first downs and 265 yards of total offense. They had some trouble containing
Nittany Lions running back Akeel Lynch, who ran for 137 yards and a score on
28 carries (4.9 ypc). However, the pass defense notched a pair of sacks and
bottled up quarterback Christian Hackenberg to just 93 yards and a TD on 8-
After scoring 7 and 9 points, respectively, in the final two games of their
four-game slide, the Wildcats have averaged 40.5 points over their last two
contests. But things won’t be so easy this week without starting quarterback
Trevor Siemian, who suffered a season-ending ACL injury against Purdue. Head
coach Pat Fitzgerald said on Monday that junior Zack Oliver will get the start
and that redshirt freshman Matt Alviti will also see some time, presumably to
run the option. Oliver was 5-of-11 for 85 yards at Purdue, and he also scored
on a one-yard run in the fourth quarter.
Expect Northwestern to lean on freshman running back Justin Jackson, who
carried 23 times for 147 yards and two TDs against the Boilermakers. That
effort brought Jackson over the 1,000-yard plateau for the season.
In that win over Purdue, Wildcats senior safety Ibraheim Campbell recorded his
third forced fumble over the last two weeks. He also came up with a fumble
recovery and an interception to go along with a game-high two pass breakups
and eight tackles. Campbell ranks among the school’s career leaders with 11
interceptions and 24 pass breakups.
But he also got plenty of help from his supporting cast last week, considering
Purdue’s only points came in the last minute of the first half and the last
minute of regulation, when the game was well out of reach. Redshirt freshman
linebacker Anthony Walker had a game-high nine tackles, including 2.5 for
loss, a forced fumble and 1.5 sacks.
The stakes are as high as can be for this matchup, which both teams are
approaching as a one-game season. In a battle between backup quarterbacks,
this one could come down to the running game. If that turns out to be the
case, the hosts have a slight edge.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Northwestern 27, Illinois 20