The NUmbers Guy: Northwestern vs. Illinois Analysis

WNUR Sports Director Jim Sannes (@JimSannes) analyzes Northwestern’s 50-14 drubbing of Illinois Saturday by the numbers and questions the motivational strategy of Illinois coach Tim Beckman.

Photo: Nam Y. Huh / AP

To say I was nervous when Illinois took a 7-0 lead seven minutes into Saturday’s game would be a gross understatement. The Illini had just capped off an 11-play, 78-yard drive with a Donovonn Young touchdown, and the thoughts of upset crept into my mind. It seems as though each year, Northwestern will lose a head-scratcher to a clearly inferior opponent (Purdue of 2010, Army of 2011, the list goes on). However, the next 43 minutes, where Northwestern outscored Illinois 50-7, were possibly the greatest 43 minutes of my life as a football fan. The fact that the recipient of this punishment was Illinois made it even sweeter.

When he was hired as Illinios’ head football coach, Tim Beckman declared that Chicago was the Illini’s to have, going so far as to put a picture of a crossed-out Wildcat logo in their locker room. Beckman even beckoned to the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry by calling Northwestern, “that team up state,” and wouldn’t allow his players to say Northwestern. One report went so far as to assert that Illinois assumes their games against Indiana and Northwestern will be wins every year.


“That team up state” utterly dominated the Illini in every facet of the game, including TBLHB (Touchdowns by Large Human Beings – thank you, Paul Jorgensen). Maybe this will make Beckman reconsider how he chooses his battles. Let’s look at the numbers behind Northwestern’s 50-14 victory Saturday as they prepare for their New Year’s Day bowl game and Tim Beckman prepares for an early vacation.

83: Northwestern ran 83 offensive plays Saturday compared to Illinois’ 45.

This was the most plays that Northwestern had run since they ran 93 against Indiana at the end of September. The weird part of this stat is that both Northwestern and Illinois averaged 5.4 yards per gain. Northwestern didn’t turn the ball over four times and commit 88 yards in penalties, though.

Northwestern was dominant on the ground, pounding the ball 67 times for 338 yards and three touchdowns. Venric Mark, shockingly, was a huge part of this as he rushed for 127 yards on only 18 carries, his eighth 100-plus-yard performance of the year. Mark’s 1,310 rushing yards are already the seventh most in a single season in Northwestern history. He could catapult all the way to third all-time with 164 yards in the bowl game. My family gave me countless weird looks when I shouted, “GO VENRIC, I LOVE YOU,” at the top of my lungs every time he touched the ball. I don’t see a problem.

Kain Colter’s 88 yards put him at 820 on the season, and his rushing touchdown in the first was his 12th of the year, the most since Tyrell Sutton had 16 in 2005. Colter now ranks sixth in Northwestern history with 23 career rushing touchdowns, 15 behind Damien Anderson’s record of 38. Once science figures out how to combine Colter’s speed with Bo Cisek’s size, the universe will explode, and I will be one happy individual.

Just in case you had forgotten that Colter also happens to be a quarterback, he sent you a bit of a reminder on Saturday. Colter completed nine of his 11 attempts, three of which were touchdowns. In games in which Colter has at least three passing attempts, the ‘Cats are 9-1, the lone loss being to Michigan. I am thankful for Kain, Jay Cutler memes and pictures of Rick Ross shirtless. That is all.

4: Northwestern’s defense forced four turnovers for the second consecutive game.

It was the perfect combination of ineptitude and awesomeness only previously seen in the first four Twilight movies (as I, admittedly, have not seen the fifth…. yet). You get the laughably bad with Justin Green’s fumble on the kick-off that hopped directly into the arms of Cam Dickerson. You also get the cooler-than-Teletubbies sweetness with the interceptions by David Nwabuisi, Ibraheim Campbell and Nick VanHoose. Nwabuisi’s pick came on senior day and his last game at Ryan Field, Campbell’s was his first of the season and came after the best game of his career against Michigan State, and VanHoose’s was in his first game back after an injury. You get a pick… and you get a pick… and YOU get a pick… EVERYONE GETS A PICK!!

Northwestern is now first in the Big Ten with a +13 turnover margin, having forced 25 turnovers while only committing 12. If you’re looking for an upset in whatever bowl game Northwestern ends up in, this is how you make that happen. Just pretend that the second best team isn’t Iowa (+12) because that makes the turnover margin stat so much less cool.

14:10: Northwestern controlled the ball for 14 minutes and 10 seconds in the fourth quarter.

In the fourth quarter, Tyris Jones, Mike Trumpy, Treyvon Green, Tim Riley, Bo Cisek and Doug Diedrick all recorded carries… yet Northwestern still had the ball for all but 50 seconds in the final frame. I don’t care if Northwestern led 48-14 or 284-0. This team finally demonstrated the ability to dominate an opponent late in a game and keep the opposing offense off the field. Also, any situation that allows Cisek to get on the field is all right with me. If you haven’t read his Twitter feed, you are missing out.

At the end of the day, what do these numbers mean? Absolutely jack squat. Illinois was a terrible team that played terrible football, and Northwestern showed no mercy. This does show the ‘Cats, though, that they are capable of complete domination. I don’t care what bowl Northwestern goes to or if they get shutout in said bowl. This has been one of the best seasons in Wildcat history, and I am so glad I have gotten to watch them play week in and week out. Hey, maybe Tim Beckman will come watch the games with us… it’s not like he’ll have anything else to do.

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