Northwestern Football vs Illinois Preview

By Kendall Wright

Following yet another road loss last week against the Purdue Boilermakers, the Northwestern football team heads back home for the season finale against in-state rival: The Fighting Illini. 

Illinois is coming in with a 7-4 record after a heartbreaking loss to the No. 3 Michigan Wolverines. The Fighting Illini hope that a win against the ‘Cats can earn them the Big Ten West title and a spot in the Big Ten Championship. However, with last week’s loss, they’re going to need to focus and make sure this game doesn’t slip through their fingers. 

To spoil Illinois’ fairytale, the Wildcats will need to put pressure on Illinois quarterback Tommy DeVito, forcing him to throw the ball. Last Saturday against the Wolverines, DeVito ended the game with zero passing touchdowns despite completing 70% of his throws.  

With two rushing touchdowns last week and nearly 1,600 rushing yards on the season, the ‘Cats can’t afford to let Illinois RB Chase Brown have yet another breakout performance. Northwestern’s linebackers and defensive ends need to pack it in and prevent any game-changing runs that will swing the momentum in the Illini’s favor. 

The ‘Cats must also find consistency on the offensive side of the ball to compete against the second-best defense in the country. For starters, taking care of the football is a must. Northwestern fumbled twice against Purdue and sophomore quarterback Cole Freeman added one interception. Although last week was Freeman’s first career start, a victory on Saturday will require him to complete more than 45% of his throws. Northwestern offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian will also need to develop tighter routes to get wide receivers Malik Washington and Donny Navarro III open for Freeman. 

To come out on top, Northwestern must be more efficient on third down. So far this season, the ‘Cats have only completed 37.5% of third downs. If Northwestern remains unable to convert third downs, they can’t keep drives going and score. 

Northwestern running back Evan Hull has been a small bright spot in the Wildcats’ troubling season. Even with a fickle offensive line, the workhorse has tallied 860 rushing yards. He will need to have another stellar game to help carry this team to victory.

Even though the Wildcats haven’t won a conference game since August, the season-ending finale against Illinois always brings out the passion and competitive spirit that may have been missing as of late. Saturday’s game also is senior day for Northwestern, serving as the last time for many veteran players to leave it all out on the field. Get ready because the ‘Cats are sure to be fired up as they fight to surprise everyone and take the Land of Lincoln trophy back to Evanston.

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