2016 Final S&P+ Rk: 49
2016 Off. Rk: 63
2016 Def. Rk: 32
One of the strongest aspects that Northwestern has in their favor this season is experience. While the Wildcats have a losing record against the Illini in Memorial Stadium, none of the Cats on the current roster have played a game in Champaign and lost. The last time Fitzy and the Cats played in Memorial Stadium, they left with a 37-34 victory in 2013. The Cats currently hold the
Land of Lincoln Trophy HAT after defeating Illinois in Evanston last season.
Northwestern’s offense has only one player on the starting roster that’s an underclassman, and the Cats welcome back starting running back Justin Jackson and starting quarterback Clayton Thorson to the lineup. Jackson carried the ball 298 times last season (2nd in the Big Ten) and lead the conference in rushing yards with 1524. Clayton Thorson finished his 2016 season Top 5 in the Big Ten in passing attempts (#2), pass completions (#2), completion percentage (#5), passing yards (#4), passing touchdowns (#4), and total yards (#4). This combination on offense is going to be a LOT for the Illinois defense to handle in November.
Along with an experienced offense, Coach Fitzy’s defense welcomes back their top tackler in Godwin Igwebuike to the defensive lineup. The Cats produced the 6th best scoring defense in the Big Ten last season, but surrendered the 5th most yards per game. Passing defense was the biggest chink in the armor, as Northwestern had the worst passing defense in the conference in 2016 with an average of 265 yards surrendered per game through the air.
If Illinois is going to be successful against Coach Fitzy and the Cats this season, they will need to rely on the arm of Chayce Crouch and the receiving corps. Northwestern was third in conference in intercepted passes, so there MUST be a premium on accuracy from Chayce. This game could turn into a shootout given Northwestern’s experienced offense, and the team that can control the clock will likely be the winner come November 25th.