Don’t Hate the Player: NCAA Football simulation of Northwestern-Illinois

WNUR Sports Online Content Director Cameron Songer (@CameronSonger) picks a winner in Northwestern’s final game of the 2013 season using NCAA Football 14.

Pride is on the line as Northwestern heads to Champaign to face the Illinois Fighting Illini. Can the banged-up Wildcats ruin senior day for Illinois?

Key Players on Northwestern
SS Ibraheim Campbell (JR): 91 Overall, 88 speed
QB Kain Colter (SR): 91 Overall, 86 agility
K Jeff Budzien (SR): 88 Overall, 92 kick power

Key players on Illinois
QB Nathan Scheelhaase (SR): 89 Overall, 87 acceleration
OLB Jon Brown (SR): 87 Overall, 89 tackling
WR Ryan Lankford (SR): 87 Overall, 92 speed

Northwestern: Overall: B, Offense: B, Defense: B
Illinois: Overall: B-, Offense: B, Defense: C+

Northwestern Game Recap
I went ahead and made Trevor Siemian the starting QB, given Colter’s real-life injury and also why not? He led the ‘Cats to midfield before they had to punt. Illinois also mustered a couple of first downs before punting on their first possession. The teams exchanged punts again, and the first quarter ended with no score.

The first quarter in a nutshell: people tripping over people.

The first quarter in a nutshell: people tripping over people.

Northwestern started the second quarter by converting on 4th and 2 from the Illinois 40. (YOU SEE? IT WORKS SOMETIMES!) That drive ended in a red zone field goal after Siemian was briefly knocked out of the game with a minor injury. Illinois went three-and-out, and Mike Trumpy went back to work between the tackles. The senior running back finished with 64 yards in the first half alone. Northwestern ultimately punted, but looked to win the battle for field position. A 20-yard Illinois pass changed that, as the Illini punted, pinning NU at its own 8 with 1:40 left in the half. The ‘Cats went three-and-out, Illinois got good field position, and kicked a 39-yard field goal. It looked like Northwestern would run out the last 40 seconds, but Siemian came out throwing, hitting four straight passes. The fourth one went 21 yards to Tony Jones for the game’s first touchdown. 10-3, Northwestern at halftime.

Both teams struggled with dropped passes in the frigid air, but Siemian was outdueling is counterpart, Nathan Scheelaase, at the intermission. Northwestern’s junior QB had 116 passing yards and a TD.

Illinois began to find its offense in the second half, thanks to three straight conversions on third and long. A 13-play drive put the Illini in the endzone on a Scheelhaase TD pass, tying the game at 10. Not to be outdone, Northwestern needed just 8 plays to respond with a touchdown. The scoring play was a first-and-goal speed option pitch from Siemian to Trumpy. Because, you know, realism.

Just Mike Trumpy and Trvor Siemian running a successful speed option. Nothing to see here.

Just Mike Trumpy and Trvor Siemian running a successful speed option. Nothing to see here.

Northwestern held the 17-10 lead at the start of the fourth quarter, but Illinois had the ball. Less than a minute into the final frame, a 32-yard bomb from Scheelhaase to senior wideout Spencer Harris tied the game back up at 17. Northwestern couldn’t score, then Illinois marched back up the field. After 9 plays, they faced second and goal from the 1 and punched it in with the fullback. With two minutes left, Illinois took its first lead at 24-17.

With 1:20 left, Trevor Siemian had driven the ‘Cats to the Illinois 33. He dropped back, shook off a sack, rolled right and threw up a prayer. Safety Earnest Thomas appeared to be in position, but dropped the pick. Northwestern was still alive. Three plays later, Northwestern lined up with five wide receivers and Trevor Siemian hit Matthew Harris (who is apparently #7 on the ‘Cats wide receiver depth chart in the game) for a game-tying score.

Illinois got the ball back with less than a minute left, and two quick passes had the Illini inside NU territory with under 30 seconds to go. However, the defense stood strong and the game went into overtime.

Illinois got the ball first, and needed just two plays to score. Seriously. A 24-yard pass on the first play of overtime is apparently really good for the offense. On Northwestern’s possession, the ‘Cats faced 4th and 13 from the Illinois 18, needing a TD, or at least a first down. They got neither, as Dan Vitale dropped a pass six yards short of the first down marker. Final score: Illinois 31, Northwestern 24.

Final Thoughts
Northwestern lost an overtime game after holding a fourth quarter lead? Yawn. Northwestern lost to a team that recently suffered a 20-game conference losing streak? Sure, why not? What makes this especially painful is the solid game some ‘Cats played. Tony Jones finished with 100 yards and a TD and Mike Trumpy rushed for 95 yards. Northwestern’s offensive line didn’t allow a sack and the ‘Cats didn’t turn the ball over. Illinois rushed for a total of 65 yards.

Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase struggled with the run, but threw for more than 300 yards.

Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase struggled with the run, but threw for more than 300 yards.

Actually, how did Northwestern lose? Forget it, I’m done. Happy Thanksgiving.

Big Games This Week
Texas 42, Texas Tech 9
USC 35, UCLA 28
Florida State 48, Florida 7
Alabama 24, Auburn 20
South Carolina 24, Clemson 21
Texas A&M 34, Missouri 23

Around the Big Ten
Nebraska 24, Iowa 10
Ohio State 52, Michigan 27
Michigan State 30, Minnesota 7
Purdue 41, Indiana 24
Penn State 28, Wisconsin 17

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