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Northwestern vs. Illinois player grades

Grading NU's performance in the season-ending loss to the Illini.

Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Zack Oliver: F -- Oliver actually improved a lot after halftime, but it was hard not to after a first half that was so disastrous. In fact, it was practically irreversible. The stats tell you all you need to know: over the first 30 minutes, Oliver completed 2 of his 6 passes for a total of 9 yards, threw 2 interceptions, and lost 2 fumbles. That's atrocious. And after the break, after finding a bit of a rhythm, a fourth-quarter pick-six sealed the Wildcats' fate.

Mick McCall: F -- The offense looked entirely unprepared for a defense that, base on previous performances, shouldn't have been all that difficult to prepare for. Additionally, one of McCall's big responsibilities at Northwestern is quarterback development, and neither Zack Oliver nor Matt Alviti seem to have developed (yet) into serviceable gunslingers. That's worrying. McCall's job security will be a topic of constant discussion over the next month.

Justin Jackson: A -- What's new? The freshman running back was Northwestern's only offensive weapon, and salvaged a 5.4 yards per carry rushing average despite some suspicious offensive line play. He totaled 176 all-purpose yards.

Offensive line: C -- Pass protection was neither decidedly good nor decidedly bad. And the same can probably said for the run blocking. But the line generally struggled in the first half against a statistically awful defense, and was a contributing factor in NU falling behind early.

Solomon Vault: A -- Tried to give Northwestern life with a second-quarter kickoff return TD. Unfortunately, the rest of the team resisted that new life.

Tony Jones: C- -- After a tough first half that included a drop-turned-interception, Jones rebounded in the second half and was Oliver's only reliable target on one 3rd-quarter touchdown drive. But in a game like this, the first half weighs more heavily than the second because it put NU in such a big hole.

Defensive Line: D+ -- Remember when getting pressure on opposing QBs was a strength for NU? Not the case anymore. The line was stifled by an Illini offensive front that had been one of the worst in the Big Ten. Not only could they not get any pressure, they were gashed by the read option. Illinois quarterback Reilly O'Toole ran for a whopping 147 yards. Plus, the poor effort was exacerbated by silly penalties -- a late hit by Ifeadi Odenigbo and a facemask by Dean Lowry were particularly costly.

Drew Smith: B+ -- Smith was the one defensive player who had a noticeably strong game. He was flying around the field, and seemed to be in on a lot of tackles, or at least consistently around the ball.

Chi Chi Ariguzo: D -- Ariguzo has had a solid career at Northwestern, but his senior day was forgettable. He was missing tackles all over the place, and also struggled in coverage.

Makeshift secondary: C- -- Not as bad as you might suspect based on the score. Matt Harris and Ibraheim Campbell were solid, and Jimmy Hall played admirably in his return to the secondary. By there were one or two blown coverages, and Kyle Queiro and Jarrell Williams were often successfully targeted by Illinois' offense.