Why Northwestern will beat Illinois
Drake Anderson and the Illinois run defense
Redshirt freshman Drake Anderson is likely to be the main man for Northwestern’s running offense this Saturday — Bowser is still injured and Evan Hull will sit out to reserve his redshirt — despite seeing limited playing time so far this season. Luckily, this matchup looks like it will lean in Northwestern’s direction. Run defense is not a strong point for the Fighting Illini: they rank 89th in the country with a little over 185 yards allowed per game. Considering Northwestern’s passing offense is pretty much non-existent, it is likely Fitz and co. will rely on the run game this weekend to secure the team’s fifth straight HAT.
Illinois’s slow offense
In terms of offensive production, the Fighting Illini are not far ahead of the ‘Cats. They struggle with third down conversions (even more) than Northwestern, ranked 113th in the nation with a .335 percentage. And the team seems to grapple with turnovers almost as much as Northwestern, with 8 lost fumbles so far this season compared to Northwestern’s 9. If things go well, the Northwestern defense should be able to keep this offense under control and pave the way for a win.
The last time Illinois came out on top against the ‘Cats was 2014. The last time the ‘Cats traveled to Champaign, Illinois, they left with a 42-7 win to end the 2017 season. Northwestern is also 7-3 against Illinois since the “Land of Lincoln” trophy started in 2009, so maybe, just maybe, for old times’ sake, the ‘Cats will take home the title again and send the seniors out on some sort of positive note.
Why Northwestern won’t beat Illinois
The Fighting Illini lead the country in three categories with 27 forced turnovers, 16 recovered fumbles, and six defensive touchdowns. For an offense that is especially prone to turning the ball over, this Illinois defense is bound to be a huge problem. Andrew Marty showed some promise last week against the Gophers, but ball security will undoubtedly be an issue for the inexperienced quarterback in an away rivalry game.
Lack of a passing offense
I mean this one pretty much speaks for itself. Northwestern hasn’t been able to throw the ball down field all year, and it’s really hard to win games if you can’t do that. Marty will make can and will some plays with his legs, but without NU being able to hit open receivers and string together some back-to-back completed passes, this game could become a lost cause.
Illinois is just having a great season
To recap: last year, Illinois lost to Maryland and were 2-7 in the Big Ten. This year, Illinois upset Wisconsin, beat Purdue, and mounted an epic comeback to erase a 28-3 deficit and triumph against Michigan State.
If the Fighting Illini were to come out on top Saturday, they would secure their seventh win in the regular season for the first time since the team went to the Rose Bowl in 2007. This would also be the first time Illinois achieved an above .500 record in conference since 2007. They are the much better team this year, and it shows as they are nearly double digit favorites.