Northwestern seized control of the game after Illinois opened the scoring, and the Wildcats lead 21-7 at halftime. Here are a few quick hits from the first half at Soldier Field.
- Illinois scored on its first drive after getting a short field, converting two third downs and a fourth down. Only needing 48 yards to score, Wes Lunt led the Illini down the field and inevitably got into the end zone on a one-yard quarterback sneak.
- Northwestern responded immediately with a touchdown drive of its own, highlighted by a 48-yard pass from Clayton Thorson to Austin Carr (his longest completion to a wide receiver this season) and a juggling touchdown catch and run by superback Dan Vitale.
- A key Illini personal foul penalty negated a Northwestern punt and kept the Wildcats’ third offensive drive alive, which led to a Warren Long touchdown six plays later.
- Thorson certainly benefitted from a couple of big completions to Austin Carr and Miles Shuler (87 combined yards on those catches), but he nonetheless went over 100 yards passing in a game for the first time since the Nebraska game on Oct. 24.
- Justin Jackson had a nice first half as well, rushing for 59 yards and a touchdown. Jackson has also now surpassed last season’s rushing yards total, which was 1187 yards.
- After burning the ‘Cats in last year’s season finale, Northwestern’s defense was able to hold Illini running back Josh Ferguson relatively in check in the first half. Ferguson had 36 rushing yards on nine attempts, a far cry from the 132 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns that he had in Evanston last season.
- While Northwestern started the game hot on offense (three straight touchdown drives after the opening drive went three-and-out), the Wildcats’ offense went cold after that. The ‘Cats punted on their next three drives, mustering only 19 total yards during that span.
- Nick VanHoose was carted off the field with an apparent head injury late in the second quarter after being down for several minutes. He was inadvertently hit in the head by Nate Hall after both players went for an interception on a tipped pass. His condition remains to be seen, but it was a tense few moments for the crowd and players. VanHoose waved to the crowd as he left the field.