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Northwestern-Illinois Final Score: Wildcats keep the HAT with easy 42-7 win

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The Wildcats’ defense was simply too much for an outmatched Illini offense

NCAA Football: Northwestern at Illinois Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

The HAT will be living in Evanston for a third straight year.

Despite a slow start, the Northwestern Wildcats (9-3, 7-2 B1G) easily defeated the Illinois Fighting Illini (2-10, 0-9) 42-7 Saturday evening at Memorial Stadium in Champaign-Urbana, IL. It was the Wildcats’ seventh straight win on the season and gives Northwestern at least nine wins for the third time in the last six years.

The Wildcats won with defense and the rushing game as Illinois was held to only 239 yards and 7 points while turning it over 3 times. Justin Jackson had 18 carries for 144 yards and a touchdown. The defense was also responsible for 7 of Northwestern’s 42 points.

Northwestern opened the game with a quick three-and-out in just 59 seconds and the Illini responded with maybe their best drive of the season, a 12-play, 69-yard touchdown drive in 5:14 that ended in a 23-yard Cam Thomas rushing touchdown. That came after a Dre Brown rushing touchdown was called back on a holding call.

The Wildcats appeared to respond right away with a long drive all the way to the Illinois 4 yard line, but Clayton Thorson threw an ill-advised interception on third down and Northwestern came away with nothing.

The defense forced a huge three-and-out from Illinois after the interception, but at the end of the first quarter the No. 22 team in the nation trailed 7-0.

The second quarter opened with a pass short of the sticks to Justin Jackson and another punt, Northwestern’s second three-and-out of the game. With the Illini pinned on their own 8 yard line, they quickly went three-and-out and gave the ball right back.

Northwestern got the ball at midfield and finally put some points on the board with a quick 6 play, 51 yard drive that was capped by an 11-yard Garrett Dickerson touchdown. The Wildcats had tied the game up at 7-7 and wouldn’t look back.

After the Illini wasted great field position off a big kickoff return with a three-and-out, Northwestern scored just two plays later on a 5-yard Jelani Roberts jet sweep after an impressive 52-yard reception for Bennett Skowronek.

Illinois got great field position for the second straight drive and once again went three-and-out, its fourth straight (Although one of those was a four-and-out). A good punt pinned Northwestern at its own 11 and three plays later the Wildcats punted it right back. Illinois’ fifth straight three-and-out gave the ball back to Northwestern on its own 24. The Wildcats picked up a first down on an Illini penalty, but three plays after that punted.

The Illini finally got a first down on a 20-yard Louis Dorsey reception, but punted quickly after that. Northwestern got the ball at its own 2, ran out the clock and went into half up 14-7.

Illinois opened the second half with two straight first downs before missing a 52-yard field goal. Northwestern gave us the game’s 10th punt a few plays later but the defense capitalized with a strip sack by Joe Gaziano and return touchdown by Sam Miller to make it 21-7.

The next Illinois drive ended in a punt and Northwestern nearly put the game away on the very next play with an 79-yard Justin Jackson run, the longest play of the season and Jackson’s longest rush of his career. Jackson ran it in from 1 yard out on the play after and gave Northwestern a 28-7 lead.

After the two teams traded punts, Paddy Fisher picked off a Thomas pass over the middle and Northwestern took over at the Illinois 31. 10 plays later Jeremy Larkin punched it in from 4 yards out to make it 35-7 Northwestern with 12:05 left in the game.

The rest of the game resembled much of last week against Minnesota as the starters were replaced by the backups. The one highlight was an 18-yard touchdown for Jesse Brown to make it 42-7 Northwestern.

That’s where the score would stay as the Wildcats coasted to their seventh straight victory.

Now its just a matter of where they’ll be bowling.

Takeaways

  • This is the new norm for Northwestern. The Wildcats finish the season 9-3 and will head into their bowl game with a seven game win streak. This is Northwestern’s third 9+ win season of the last six years and their second in the last three. We’ve reached the point now where this is the expectation for Northwestern Football. They’ve taken the next step as a program, now they have to win a division title.
  • Illinois is not good and it shows. The Fighting Illini showed a little something on their first drive of the game, gaining 69 yards and scoring a TD but only gained 170 yards the rest of the way and did not score again. They punted 9 times on the day. After year two of the Lovie Smith era, its unclear what the former Chicago Bears head coach is building in Champaign.
  • A fine farewell for Justin Jackson. While Jackson does still have the bowl game, in his last regular season game he delivered once again with 144 yards and 1 TD. He moved into 10th all time in NCAA history in rushing yards and passed Monte Ball for fourth all time in Big Ten history.
  • Jackson owns Illinois. The Ballcarrier finishes with 619 yards and 7 touchdowns in his career against the Illini. That’s an average of 154.8 yards per game.