Northwestern failed to obtain bowl eligibility with their two-touchdown loss to Illinois. Pat Fitzgerald had injuries up and down his roster. However, there's really no excuse for giving up 47 points to the Illini. It wasn't a good game statistically to finish the season, but perhaps the numbers provide a look into the future:
Zack Oliver left the field Saturday with a QBR of 6.5, which is not good considering the stat runs on a scale of 0 to 100. He completed 23 of 38 attempts for 221 yards and 5.8 yards per attempt. That looks a lot like a Trevor Siemian stat line, until you throw in the five turnovers, three of which were interceptions. The turnovers weren't entirely Oliver's fault, but he should've performed better against an Illinois team that has the worst defense NU has faced since September. Oliver's outing proved, as we had suspected, Trevor Siemian was the best Wildcat quarterback all along, and there should be strong competition for the starting spot next season.
Illinois gained 291 of their 438 total yards on the ground against Northwestern. Reilly O'Toole gashed the Wildcat defense for 147 of those 291 yards on 21 carries, including some huge runs off the read option. Running backs Josh Ferguson and Donovonn Young chipped in 146 yards too as Illinois went well over their season average of 117 rushing yards, which ranks 114th in the nation. The Illini hadn't scored more than 28 points in a conference game this year, and Northwestern hadn't given up 291 yards on the ground since October 2011. It was an absolutely abysmal showing for the defense, although they couldn't have been stretched any thinner by injuries.
The Northwestern football injury report for Illinois featured eight names, four starters and four key reserves. Matt Harris got injured early in the game, leaving NU without four of its six best defensive backs. Jimmy Hall was forced back to safety and Kyle Queiro moved to cornerback. The secondary was a total mess, and the offense was missing two of its top playmakers in Kyle Prater and Miles Shuler. That injury report doesn't even include Trevor Siemian's name either. Northwestern was deep enough for the defense to make up for some injuries, as they showed throughout the conference slate, but the cumulation of losses this week was too much for the team to handle.
This probably won't come as a surprise considering NU lost the turnover battle 5-1 and scored on a kick return, but the Wildcats only possessed the football for 25 minutes and 23 seconds. Northwestern had three three-and-outs in the first half and three turnovers that came in the first two plays of a drive. The 'Cats were simply handing the ball back to the Illini, who pounded away at the NU defense, draining clock with their proficient running game. The loss was the toughest of the season, but it may be just what NU needed to turn things around.