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Northwestern vs. Illinois State: Three key matchups

The Wildcats will have to be better up front.

NCAA Football: Western Michigan at Northwestern Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Yes, football is an 11-on-11 game, but when it comes down to it, you have to win at the individual level to win at the team level. Here are three individual matchups that will be key in Saturday’s game between Northwestern and Illinois State.

Northwestern’s defensive ends vs. Illinois State tackles

Against Western Michigan, the Wildcats were thoroughly beaten by off-tackle runs. Pat Fitzgerald explained that guys simply didn’t fit schemes correctly, leaving gaping holes for diminutive running back Jamauri Bogan to exploit. When he didn’t get the ball on the option, Zach Terrell was able to find success bouncing things outside as well. If Northwestern’s defensive ends struggle again, the Wildcats could be in for a long day. Illinois State used six running backs to pile up 278 rushing yards in Week 1 against Valparaiso.

Matt Harris vs. Anthony Warrum

Warrum is coming off an FCS All-American year where he caught 58 passes for 1290 yards and 15 touchdowns. He averaged an astounding 22.2 yards per catch, so he’s a big-play threat and just a big, strong, fast target in general at 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds. As you can see from his highlights, he’s very much a run-after-catch threat, too. Harris did a very good job on Corey Davis last week, and he could very well draw the assignment of Warrum in Week 2.

Justin Jackson vs. Illinois State front seven

This will come down mainly to the offensive line, but Jackson needs to be in peak form Saturday against a slid Redbird run defense that allowed just 22 yards to Valparaiso last week. Especially without Warren Long behind him, Jackson is in line to get a ton of carries (sound familiar?) and will be the focal point of the offense. If he can find a groove early, this will be a much easier task for Fitzgerald’s squad.