Illinois football looks to hold Land of Lincoln Trophy, control its Big Ten West hopes

The+Illinois+football+team+celebrates+with+the+Land+of+Lincoln+Trophy+after+winning+the+game+against+Northwestern+on+Nov.+27+2021.

Photo Courtesy of Illini Athletics

The Illinois football team celebrates with the Land of Lincoln Trophy after winning the game against Northwestern on Nov. 27 2021.

By Jonathan Alday, Assistant Sports Editor

After a heartbreaking 19-17 loss to No. 3 Michigan in Ann Arbor, Mich., Illinois hopes to conclude their regular season against in-state rival Northwestern in Evanston.

Nebraska’s win over then-Big Ten West front runner Iowa increased Illinois’ chances to make the Big Ten Championships. Their fate, however, continues to be dependent on a win over Northwestern and a Indiana win over Purdue.

After snapping a six game losing streak to the Wildcats last fall, Illinois hopes to end a season that started off hot for the Illini, going on a six game winning streak and standing at 7-1 by the start of the November. Since then, Illinois has dropped three straight, making their Big Ten Championship dreams bleak and plummeting them from national rankings after a loss to Purdue on Senior Day.

Illinois has relied on their defense, ranked 2nd in the nation and junior running back Chase Brown, who leads college football in rushing yards. Against the Wolverines’ 2nd ranked rushing defense, Brown ran for 141 yards on 29 attempts, notching two touchdowns.

The Wildcats’ season has been far from what was expected heading into the year. Since their season opening win over Nebraska in Ireland, Northwestern has yet to find themselves back in the winning column. Against Illini, they have the opportunity to shut the door on Bielema and Co.’s Big Ten West Champion aspirations and reclaim the Land of Lincoln Trophy, nicknamed ‘The Hat’.

Despite the Illini being heavy favorites, they have shown throughout the season the ability to cause self-inflicted wounds, a recent trend among their three-game skid. With a punting unit that has the ability to give the team unfavorable field position and questionable offensive playcalling, enough Illinois mistakes could leave the door open for a surprise Northwestern upset.

“We’re at a point where we have enough talent, we have enough grit and toughness that when we do things the way we’re capable of doing we can move the ball and score points on whoever we play,” offensive coordinator Barry Lunney Jr. said. “Our job is to score one more point than the other team. Any amount of being pleased or being happy with the way we move the ball at times… is very minimal compared to the disappointment that we’ve not done our job on our end to score enough points the last three weeks.”

The Battle for ‘The Hat’ will kick off at 2:30 p.m. with Illinois (7-4, 4-4 Big Ten) taking on Northwestern (1-10, 1-7 Big Ten) at Ryan Field in Evanston, Ill.

 

@JonathanAlday7

[email protected]