Following their upset of Stanford there was some wariness that Northwestern might come out flat and have a let down against Eastern Illinois. However, all of those worries were dispelled as Justin Jackson rumbled into the endzone with a little under two minutes left in the first quarter, en route to a blowout and a 41-0 Wildcat win.
Northwestern ran the ball early and often against an Eastern Illinois defense that looked overwhelmed at times, rotating mainly between Justin Jackson (22 caries, 78 yards, 1 TD) and Warren Long (12 carries, 72 yards, 1 TD). Clayton Thorson played well in his second career game (11-16, 152 yards, 1 TD, 2 carries, 8 yards, 1 TD), and cemented his dual threat status by throwing a 44 yard touchdown and rushing for one as well.
The defense put on an even more impressive performance, shutting out the Panthers and have now held their opponents out of the endzone for 120 consecutive minutes. This is the first time Northwestern has not allowed a touchdown in two straight games since 1958 and their first shutout since 2007 against Northeastern. Anthony Walker was once again all over the field, collecting 7 tackles and 2 tackles for loss. He also sniffed out and blew up a trick play late in the first half that led to a Matthew Harris interception. Harris had himself a day as well, picking off two passes and returning the second one for a touchdown.
1. Northwestern controlled the line on both sides of the ball
Northwestern is bigger and stronger than Eastern Illinois and that showed on the field today. The offensive line consistently opened up holes for all of the running backs, and gave Clayton Thorson enough time to throw. Eastern Illinois was outmatched at the point of attack and it showed in the final scoreline.
The defensive line was even more dominant and practically lived in the backfield all day. The pass rush was a big part of both interceptions, and the line stopped EIU on a couple fourth and shorts, including stonewalling an attempted quarterback sneak on fourth-and-1. Even more encouraging for the defense is the fact that Ifeadi Obenigbo is starting to look like the pass rusher everyone expected him to be last year. The former four-star recruit was in the backfield all day, including a sack where he just simply pushed Eastern Illinois' right tackle straight back and grabbed quarterback Jalen Whitlow.
2. Clayton Thorson is improving, but he's not there yet
Last week, Thorson showed off his speed, but still made a few bad decisions that Stanford was unable to take advantage of. Today he played much better, albeit against an inferior opponent. He made a couple of great throws while on the run, and was also solid in the pocket, completing his first career touchdown on a 44 yard catch and run to Austin Carr.
Also, he can still use his legs to make plays. For the second straight week Thorson scored a rushing touchdown, although this one was only 8 yards compared to his 42 yard scamper last week. While he did play well, there were still a couple of ill-advised throws that could have been intercepted. However, the takeaway from today is that Thorson is improving and should continue to do so as the season progresses.
3. Northwestern did what they needed to do
After a close win against a ranked opponent, Northwestern needed to come out against Eastern Illinois and cement their place in the national conscience. Even if it was against an FCS opponent, the Wildcats showed that they're here to stay with a dominant all-around performance in a game they were supposed to win. In fact this game was the biggest blowout of the Pat Fitzgerald era, the 41 point winning margin surpassed a 50-14 win against Illinois in 2012. It was also the Wildcats' biggest win since 1970, when they beat Illinois 48-0.
- True freshman Jelani Roberts (3 rushes, 20 yards) appears to be being used only for rushing plays and reverses, it will be interesting to see if the team decides to use his speed in the passing game at some point.
- Northwestern still isn't great in short yardage situations. They got stopped on a fourth-and-1 at midfield and couldn't score with a first-and-goal on the game's first drive.