by Jonah Rosenblum (@jonahlrosenblum)
Northwestern rode spectacular special teams play, including a couple of field goals, a couple of dynamic returns and a forced fumble on an Illinois' kickoff return, and three interceptions to a dominant 50-14 victory over Illinois. Kain Colter's precise passing (9-of-11) and Northwestern's 338 rushing yards didn't hurt.
1. Northwestern picked up right were it left off to start out the second half, ramming the ball down Illinois’ throat to expand its lead. The Wildcats’ rushing efforts included seven rushes of five yards or greater, compared to two rushes of fewer than five yards. All of that rushing set up a passing play that shocked everyone. When Kain Colter finally dropped back several steps, it was the first time that had happened all half, and he did a beautiful job of rolling right and suddenly turning left, after which he immediately fired a pass to Tyris Jones before the Fighting Illini defense had a chance to respond. Northwestern’s senior running back didn’t waste any time, immediately rumbling into the end zone.
2. Illinois continued to attack the middle of the field, converting a third-and-six with a pass over the middle to Darius Millines. Northwestern learned its lesson though as safety Ibraheim Campbell finally drifted over the middle and stepped in front of a pass for Millines, presumably sealing the Wildcats’ victory. If that didn’t do it, Colter’s touchdown pass downfield to a wide-open Paul Jorgensen, Northwestern’s backup left tackle, sealed the deal, giving the Wildcats a 41-14 lead. When the backup left tackle, at 6-foot-6 and 295 pounds, is scoring touchdowns, that’s when you know it’s a done deal. Forget when the fat lady sings, when the fat man beats the defense downfield, it’s over.
3. Northwestern hasn’t had too many interceptions this season, but the defense has gotten more aggressive with each passing week. That continued into Saturday, as the Wildcats notched three interceptions, as Ibraheim Campbell stepped in front of one Nathan Scheelhaase pass over the middle, NickVanHoose ran up the sideline to intercept another and David Nwabuisi had good hands to pick off a laser over the middle. The Wildcats’ three picks were equivalent to their total through nine games this season.
4. Northwestern’s romp through Ryan Field continued with Kain Colter’s spectacular toss deep down the left sideline to Christian Jones, who leaped to snare the high pass and somehow held on for a 30-yard gain. It was a beautiful grab by Jones.
5. Even when Illinois knew the run was coming, the Fighting Illini could do nothing about it. The Wildcats made their intentions perfectly clear in the fourth quarter, handing it to Tyris Jones, Treyvon Green and Mike Trumpy on nine consecutive snaps, for a total gain of 40 yards. The Wildcats then turned to their passing game on fourth-and-six, and even then, Trevor Siemian was able to overcome some early struggles (an interception and a pass through the uprights) to find Mike Jensen for a first down. Tim Riley then went back to the ground and bulldozed through Illinois’ defense for a gain of 12 yards.
6. When it came to little-known Northwestern players getting a shot, Paul Jorgensen performed beautifully with a touchdown. Bo Cisek performed less well as he was stuffed on his first rush and fumbled on his second. Max Chapman delivered a safety with a perfect tackle of Demi Ayoola in the end zone.
7. Kain Colter took another step in proving his doubters wrong, completing 9-of-11 for 102 yards and three touchdowns. He had a couple of beauties, whether it was his touchdown pass to Tony Jones or his precisely thrown pass to Christian Jones as he cut toward the left sideline. He also threw a perfect pass to a wide-open Paul Jorgensen; as easy a pass as it was, it is worth noting that it was thrown perfectly. He also ran for 88 yards on 6.3 yards per carry.