Position by position breakdown: Illinois vs. Northwestern

 

 

QUARTERBACKS

It will be difficult for Juice Williams to top his four-touchdown performance against Ohio State from last week. Williams showcased both his arm and legs against Ohio State and may have turned the corner from his past inconsistency. Expect Eddie McGee to look stylish holding a clipboard this week. Northwestern quarterback C.J. Bacher has thrown for 3,346 yards this year, but has had problems with interceptions, too. The junior from Sacramento, Calif., has thrown 17 to date and might have a few more against an aggressive Illini secondary.

EDGE: ILLINOIS

RUNNING BACKS

Although big things were projected for NU’s Tyrell Sutton this year, the junior has struggled through the season due to injuries. Sutton has missed six games on the year and hasn’t been the threat that the Wildcats were hoping he might develop into this season. Illinois’ Rashard Mendenhall didn’t have a great statistical game last week against Ohio State, but had multiple key runs that helped Illinois on the last drive of the game. Mendenhall will be looking for a big game to end the year.

EDGE: ILLINOIS

WIDE RECEIVERS

Illinois freshman sensation Arrelious Benn went down last week with a concussion and will likely be limited in play this week if the Illinois offense can operate well without him. Will Judson and Brian Gamble will likely see more time at the slot position. The other members of the receiving corps will likely get more passes their way this week as a result. Northwestern’s trio of Eric Peterman, Ross Lane and Kim Thompson are the three top receivers on the team. All three are more than 6-feet-1 and Thompson is a threat on the outside with his 6-feet-4 frame.

EDGE: ILLINOIS

OFFENSIVE LINE

The left side of the Northwestern line features three seniors in mammoth 6-feet-8 tackle Dylan Thiry, guard Adam Crum and center Trevor Rees. Although the line has experience and has helped to set up Bacher and the passing attack, it has also let up 30 sacks on the year. The Illinois line, comparatively, has only let up 11 sacks so far.

EDGE: ILLINOIS

DEFENSIVE LINE

The Illini defensive front has been performing well all season, with 36 sacks for a loss of 245 yards on the year. Although junior Will Davis has had a breakout season with 8.5 sacks, the whole line is getting in on the fun of sacking the opposing team’s quarterback this year. Thirteen players have tallied at least half of a sack this season. The Northwestern front is led by senior David Ngene, with five sacks on the year.

EDGE: ILLINOIS

LINEBACKERS

The Northwestern linebackers are an experienced bunch with two seniors in middle linebacker and leading tackler Adam Kadela and weak side Eddie Simpson to go along with junior strong side Prince Kwateng. Kadela has had a great year so far, with 108 tackles. Illinois’ J Leman will be playing his final game at Memorial Stadium and will likely want to go out with a bang. Look out.

EDGE: ILLINOIS

SECONDARY

The Wildcats’ secondary isn’t the best in the Big Ten, but features another up-and-coming sophomore in Sherrick McManis. Northwestern only has eight interceptions on the year and no multiple thefts by any player. Illinois’ senior safety duo of Justin Harrison and Kevin Mitchell will have to be on its toes against the pass-happy offense of Northwestern.

EDGE: ILLINOIS

SPECIAL TEAMS

Michael Cklamovski, Anthony Santella and the rest of the Illinois special teams group will face a Northwestern group that hasn’t been spectacular this year, but can hurt a team with its solid kick return game that has a return for a touchdown on the season. Jason Reda will play in his final home game on Saturday and can move into second place on the career field goal list with five more field goals.

EDGE: ILLINOIS

COACHING

Ron Zook seems to have finally found his niche in Illinois football, and Pat Fitzgerald is a young and enthusiastic coach. Unfortunately, he is still in the growing phase of the Northwestern program.

EDGE: ILLINOIS