Northwestern notes, grades: Illini dominate Wildcats to earn back Land of Lincoln Trophy


Photo Courtesy of Craig Pessman / Illinois Athletics

Calvin Avery celebrates with teammates during Illinois’ 47-14 win over Northwestern on Saturday evening at Memorial Stadium. The defense played a big role in the blowout victory, while the offense and special team units also played some of their best football of the year.

By Josh Pietsch, Sports On-Air Editor

What we watched out there today, folks, was the best we’ve seen Illinois play in a long time. The Illini stormed out of the gate, played a complete game on both ends of the ball and humiliated their in-state rival, winning the game, 47-14.

In the first half alone, after getting out to a 28-0 lead, the Illini led 37-3 at halftime. Those scores consisted of three runs, one pass and three field goals. The defense was phenomenal as well, forcing two turnovers in the half.

The level of scoring wasn’t as high in the second half for Illinois as it was in the first, but that was partially due to lots of runs and clock killing. Still, the Illini were able to kick one more field goal and find the end zone for the fifth time Saturday, completing a dominant 33-point win to earn their first victory over the Wildcats in seven years.

Run game galore

Of the five times Illinois found the end zone, four of them were from the run game, and all four of those times were by different players: Daniel Barker, Isaiah Williams, Chase Brown and Josh McCray each tallied a touchdown against the Wildcats.

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While many rushers had a very good game, the offensive line has to be given at least half the credit. They dominated the line the whole game, opening up holes for their teammates to run through.

Peters also had a couple of nice runs, just adding to the total. The Illini finished with 217 rushing yards, Brown leading the way with 112. 

Senior Day smiles

It was Senior Day in Champaign, celebrating 41 players, 22 of whom are super seniors. After an unconventional four plus years, the seniors finished their careers on a high note, beating Northwestern for the first time in their Illinois careers.

The offensive line, consisting of three key seniors in Alex Palczewski, Doug Kramer and Vederian Lowe, had a great game, and quarterback Brandon Peters had easily the best game of his season, finishing with 242 yards and a touchdown.

For the final play, linebacker and captain Jake Hansen and running back Mike Epstein joined the team in victory formation, even after both had season-ending surgeries earlier in the year. Awesome moment in Champaign, and the seniors are going home winners.

Offense: A-

Yup. For the first time all season, Illinois gets into the “A” section, according to me at least. But just watching the game — or looking at the score, for that matter — it’s easy to know why. 

Five touchdowns, four field goals and 459 total yards will give you just that. Four different skill position players found the end zone, as Isaiah Williams also caught a touchdown on a 39-yard bomb from Peters.

I’m not going to give them a solid “A” because they punted a few times, settled for some field goals and did turn the ball over once on an unlucky interception, but their performance was very impressive nonetheless. Awesome way to end the season.

Defense: A

I have to give it to them. The defense today was amazing. I know they did allow two touchdowns, but one of them was in garbage time — and probably wasn’t even a touchdown as the runner seemed to have not crossed the plane — and the defense as a whole was extremely impressive.

They forced two turnovers — a fumble recovered by Isaiah Gay and an interception by Jartavius Martin — and held the Wildcats to 241 total yards.

The defensive line was great, sacking Hilinski multiple times and giving him a very tough time, and the defensive backs and linebackers held the Wildcats to 12/25 passing. Just awesome.

Special teams: A+

How could it not be?

James McCourt was 4/4 from field goals, with his long being from 49 yards out. 

Blake Hayes punted three times, and each of them were great, including his first one, which pinned Northwestern back inside its own 3-yard line. He’s the best punter in the country.

Coaching: A

I’ve never done a coaching category, but for the final game of the year, I wanted to. Plus, the staff should be rewarded for their awesome preparation in one of, if not the, most important game of the year. 

Tony Petersen, who I’ve been super tough on before and I still think Illinois may need an offensive coordinator change in the offseason, but the game he called today was awesome. There was a great mixture of pass and run plays, and I loved the way Peters was used. 47 points is awesome and deserves to be recognized.

Ryan Walters was phenomenal again, with a great plan to slow down both parts of the Northwestern offense. Very good thing he received an extension. 

And Bret Bielema, the head of the team, got his squad prepared and made a statement in the in-state battle. Well done, Coach.



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