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Northwestern loss concludes regular season

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Northwestern loss concludes regular season

Illinois quarterback AJ Bush (1) passes the ball during the game against Iowa at Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018.

Illinois quarterback AJ Bush (1) passes the ball during the game against Iowa at Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018.

Austin Yattoni

Illinois quarterback AJ Bush (1) passes the ball during the game against Iowa at Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018.

Austin Yattoni

Austin Yattoni

Illinois quarterback AJ Bush (1) passes the ball during the game against Iowa at Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018.

By Tatiania Perry, Staff writer

Illinois fell to in-state rival and Big Ten West Champion Northwestern to conclude the season Saturday.

After last week’s record-breaking 63-0 defeat handed out by Iowa, Illinois was hoping to get the “bad taste out of its mouth” before the season was finished, according to head coach Lovie Smith.

The 24-16 Land of Lincoln game loss was home to one of the strongest receiver performances of the season.

The normally run-heavy offense flipped the script with the Wildcats and was quite pass heavy. In the first half, both senior Sam Mays and sophomore Ricky Smalling made noteworthy snags, and junior Trenard Davis also caught some well-aimed passes.

The first half pass game, however, was overshadowed by the large number of drops in the second half. But after a nice snag by Smalling in the fourth, it became a one-touchdown game.

On the defensive side of the bar, Illinois continued with the same struggles they’ve faced all season with a lack of speed and poor run-stopping ability.

After the resignation of defensive coordinator Hardy Nickerson, Smith took over as a defensive play caller. What seemed to have worked for a single game hasn’t shown for the rest of the season. The defense struggles with consistency.

Illinois allowed Northwestern to have one of the best rushing games of its season with 261 yards. Though Illinois typically struggles with finishing games, they made an interesting attempt in the fourth quarter to tie the game with Smalling’s bouncy catch to score the only Illinois touchdown of the game.

Senior quarterback AJ Bush completed multiple passes down the field to sophomore Dominic Stampley, juniors Reggie Corbin and Caleb Reams to put the ball on the Illinois 25 only to have the final pass intercepted.

For a team that’s ranked 11th in the nation in yards-per-carry overall — 5.99 — and fifth in yards-per-carry in conference games, Illinois only collected 154 yards on the ground with 32 attempts.

The coaches said they’ve been cautious with Corbin since his injury in the loss to Nebraska on Nov. 11, but the junior made up nearly half of the total rushing yards with 74 on 13 carries.

Bush went out and had the best game of his career on paper. He had career-high attempts, completions and passing yards — a feat that would’ve been even higher without the large number of drops from the receivers.

Illinois knew this was the last game of the season, but this loss was paired with yet another year without the bronze Land of Lincoln Trophy, a replica of a stovepipe hat famously worn by Abraham Lincoln. The trophy was chosen by fans of both schools in 2009 in an online vote to replace the 62-year-old Tomahawk Trophy.

This marks the 10th battle for the relatively new rivalry trophy, and Illinois is 3-6 against Northwestern since the beginning of the new tradition.

Northwestern will go on to face Ohio State for the Big Ten Championship game next week at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

@tati_perry14

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