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Why Northwestern will/won’t beat Illinois


Northwestern v Illinois Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

With one final game left in the regular season, Northwestern will take the field Saturday against Illinois with a chance to finish the regular season at 8-4, a feat that seemed impossible after a 1-3 start to the season. Here are the reasons why Northwestern will/won’t beat Illinois.

Why Northwestern will beat Illinois

  1. Illinois’ porous defense

The stats speak for themselves with this Illini defense. The defense lets up an average of 40.8 points per game (124th in the country) and has let up 60+ points on three separate occasions this season. Last week, an Iowa team that Northwestern held to just 10 points put up 63 on the Illini on the road. Statistically speaking, Illinois has the worst passing and rushing defense in the conference.

2. Senior Day. Clayton Thorson. Emotions.

While this won’t be Clayton Thorson’s last start in a Northwestern uniform, it will be his last ever at Ryan Field. Despite the temptation to look ahead to Dec. 1, I expect Thorson and the team’s other seniors to come out on Saturday and play inspired against a lowly Illinois program they’ve had their way with the past three seasons. After some quiet weeks against tougher defenses, senior wide receiver Flynn Nagel should have the opportunity to create some more space against the Illinois secondary and go out of Ryan Field in style.

3. HAT.

Who looks happier in a HAT? You tell me.

Iowa v Illinois Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images
NCAA Football: Northwestern at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Why Northwestern won’t beat Illinois

  1. Illinois’ rushing attack and dual-threat quarterback

The only thing the Fighting Illini have going for them is their rushing attack. Junior Reggie Corbin, who may or may not play on Saturday due to an injury, is over 1,000 yards on the season and sophomore Ra’Von Bonner has looked strong in his past two games as well. Furthermore, Illinois quarterback AJ Bush Jr. is the team’s second overall leading rusher with 677 yards on the season and eight touchdowns. Northwestern’s worst defensive performances this year have come against quarterbacks like Kato Nelson, Adrian Martinez and Ian Book who can beat teams in the air and on the ground. Although Northwestern’s front seven has been rock solid in recent weeks, AJ Bush and the Illini could cause problems on the ground.

Illinois only gets one reason.

Let’s get this hat.