Northwestern’s second non-conference opponent has arrived from down south, and it won’t be a pushover. Southern-Illinois brings a talented FCS team to Evanston looking to deprive the Wildcats of their second win, but the Inside NU staff overwhelmingly thinks Fitz and co. will emerge victorious. Here are the writers’ rationales:
Sarah Effress: Northwestern 30, Southern Illinois 17
I’m not super confident in the Wildcat secondary being able to hold off any sort of aerial onslaught from the Salukis and NU’s tackling looked abysmal last week at times in run coverage, so it wouldn’t surprise me if SIU punches in a couple of scores and adds a field goal to its total. That being said, I expect Northwestern’s O-line to protect Hilinski better than it did last week and give him time like he had versus Nebraska to throw. That and Evan Hull will beat the Salukis and get Northwestern back in the win column this week.
Gavin Dorsey: Northwestern 31, Southern Illinois 10
Coming off a tough loss, I fully expect Northwestern to run away with this one and get back into the swing of things before a tough Big Ten schedule. The 0-2 Salukis have been absolutely gashed through the air so far, allowing 783 combined passing yards and 10 touchdowns to Incarnate Word and Southeastern Missouri, so I expect the Wildcats to bounce back easily.
Bradley Locker: Northwestern 28, Southern Illinois 13
Southern Illinois is 0-2, but the Salukis aren't exactly a pushover given their prolific rushing attack, which could easily give Northwestern fits. At the same time, Nick Hill's team has surrendered 10 passing touchdowns through two games, meaning Ryan Hilinski and NU's pass-catchers should flourish through the air. At the end of the day, the 'Cats dominate in the trenches, much like they did against Indiana State last year, and win a game that doesn't tell us much.
Iggy Dowling: Northwestern 31, Southern Illinois 14
I don’t think this is the game where Northwestern ends its bad habit of starting slow. Southern Illinois is good enough offensively to give the ‘Cats an early scare. That being said, though, this is where having Pat Fitzgerald as a coach is especially valuable. His adjustments and NU’s dominant rushing attack will put this one away.
Ben Chasen: Northwestern 48, Southern Illinois 10
Go ahead and take a glance at the Salukis’ first two games — both losses — against Incarnate Word and Southeastern Missouri State. You’ll find no evidence of pass defense (or much defense whatsoever) anywhere. Ryan Hilinski should have a field day, and anything short of a win by 3 or more scores should be considered a disappointment for the ‘Cats.
John Olsen: Southern Illinois 9, Northwestern 7
FCS team from Illinois comes to Ryan Field with the ‘Cats reeling from a heartbreakingly close non-conference loss the prior week? I’ve seen this movie before.
Jake Mozarsky: Northwestern 38, Southern Illinois 24
Northwestern should have plenty of motivation coming into this game, and they are a more talented team than SIU, who has lost both of their games so far this year and has given up an average of 49 points in those games. Expect the ‘Cats to score points in this one, and hopefully they can figure some things out on defense before Big Ten play begins. It would be true Northwestern to lose this game, but South Illinois is a bad football team.
Sophia Vlahakis: Northwestern 30, Southern Illinois 20
Northwestern wins this game because, theoretically, it should be the better team. The Duke loss was heartbreaking, but lost in the disappointment is the fact that NU did fight back from an unfortunate interception to find itself an opportunity to win. The ‘Cats should be determined to pull out a strong performance, and while the defense still needs some improvement, Hilinski can certainly lead the offense to the end zone with assistance from Hull. This is a much-needed pick-me-up for the ‘Cats.
Sam Richardson: Northwestern 34, Southern Illinois 21
No one should be shocked if Northwestern wins this game. It’s no wonder why the Wildcats scheduled Southern Illinois in the first week students (at least freshmen) are back on campus: they want an easy win in front of their first large student crowd of the year. However, despite being 0-2, the Salukis may be able to put up a fight against the ‘Cats. With veteran QB Nic Baker, potential draft prospect Avante Cox, and All-American RB Javon Williams Jr., the SIU offense has the potential to at least score some points in Evanston. But in the end, Northwestern is a far deeper team. Hilinski and Hull should be able to put up points on offense, while the return of Coco Azema in the secondary (we hope) will shore up a unit that was admittedly shaky last week against Duke. Although I may have been too optimistic last week, the ‘Cats’ matchup against the Salukis should end up being a nice bounceback for a Wildcats team reeling from a devastating week two loss.
Justin Dunbar: Northwestern 31, Southern Illinois 17
Coming off of a heartbreaking loss last week, consider this a strong bounce-back spot for Northwestern. While Southern Illinois has been quite potent in terms of run defense, they’re also allowing 11.2 yards/pass attempt through the air, and face their first power-five team this year. The Wildcats offensive line has done a tremendous job letting Hilinski be the 13th-least pressured quarterback (21%) in the power-five this year, and, now, they’re in position to do what they need to do to have success offensively; make sure Hilinski is operating from a clean pocket and creating yardage after the catch. That, along with their ability to rush the passer (25 total pressures in 2 games) and the return of Coco Azema in the secondary, sets them up for a notable victory here, though, then again, is anything a sure thing in Evanston?
Zain Bando: Northwestern 27, Southern Illinois 3
Nothing is a guarantee in life, including a “lock” against an FCS opponent. However, the Wildcats should have little to no trouble against Southern Illinois. Hull was just inches away from potentially forcing overtime last week, so if Northwestern can take care of the football and Hilinski can play good football, the ‘‘Cats should move to 2-1 before a night game against Miami (OH) Sep. 24.
John Ferrara: Northwestern 34, Southern Illinois 13
What happens if a Wildcat and a Saluki meet in real life? Assumedly, the ‘Cat should pounce the dog without a misstep. But what about when you’re dealing with a Wildcat operating on a limp and a lack of confidence? The Saluki would still be done for, but the metaphor echoes loudly. Northwestern is looking to rebound off an atrociously, gut-wrenching loss to a Duke team that dampened an already dreary home-opener. Just like their untamed counterparts, I expect the ‘Cats to pounce early and often in a rebound game against a lackluster FCS squad.
Mac Stone: Northwestern 35, Southern Illinois 14
Northwestern’s defense got exposed quite a bit last weekend, and I expect that to be the case early this time around. However, NU’s offense should be able to move the ball far more against a truly inferior opponent. Evan Hull should have another quality game and I’m hoping we’ll see Hilinski sling it a bit more. The ‘Cats may go down early, but will win comfortably. I just can’t see Fitz letting anything else happen after their lackluster loss to Duke.
Brendan Preisman: Northwestern 42, Southern Illinois 24
The Southern Illinois offense has had very little trouble so far this year, scoring 60 points in their first two games (more than the Wildcats by six points). However, the defense has been problematic for the Salukis, and they’ve already given up 98 points on the year. Quarterbacks especially have had their way with SIU’s defensive unit, with Incarnate Word slinging the pigskin all over to the tune of 451 yards and Southeast Missouri State piling on 332 more. When you consider that the man Northwestern has under center is currently 7th in the nation in passing yards at 749, you get a recipe for disaster for the Saluki defense. There’s a chance that the Wildcats lose the turnover battle again or continue the defensive miscues that plagued last week’s Duke loss, but in the end, the severe talent gap should be enough to hand Northwestern an easy double-digit win.
Jason Boué: Northwestern 38, SIU 17
This game is a chance for the team to recover from last week’s devastating loss, but it also marks a fork in the road for the ‘Cats. They can either win this bout against the Salukis, moving to 2-1 on the season with renewed hope, or they can suffer a humiliating defeat, extinguishing all hope of some even year magic. I hope they make like Robert Frost and take the road less traveled because that second option would frankly not be that shocking for Northwestern.
No one!: 2-0
Gavin Dorsey, Ben Chasen, John Olsen, Jake Mozarsky, Jason Boué, Emma Manley, Myles Gilbert: 1-1
Sarah Effress, Bradley Locker, Iggy Dowling, Sophia Vlahakis, Dan Olinger, Sam Richardson, Andrew Katz, Mac Stone, Brendan Preisman, Zain Bando: 0-2
Didi Jin, John Ferrara: 0-1