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Behind Enemy Lines: Northwestern Wildcats

I asked our friends over at Inside NU about this weekend’s game, Fitzee, and the shirtless workout last weekend.

NCAA Football: Northwestern at Minnesota Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

This weekend marks, potentially, the end of the 2018 Illinois football season, barring a modern miracle. Inside NU, our SBN counterpart covering Northwestern, was gracious enough to answer a few questions in preparation for the Illini vs. Northwestern rivalry game.

TCR: Clayton Thorson is averaging over 230 ypg through the air witha 1 to 1 touchdown to interception ratio. How would you compare him to his Big Ten counterparts?

Inside NU: The funny thing about Thorson averaging 230 yards per game is that he’s only thrown for between 200 and 350 yards in a game once this season. We’ve seen Good Thorson™ in big wins over Nebraska and Michigan State and Bad Thorson™ in losses to Duke and Michigan. Thorson hasn’t been putting up particularly impressive stats recently, but that’s in large part to NU’s new reliance on Isaiah Bowser and the run game. In terms of how he stacks up against his counterparts, Thorson is no Dwayne Haskins, Shea Patterson, or Trace McSorley. Talent-wise, he’s closer to Nate Stanley or David Blough. But Thorson is a winner, and Northwestern fans are grateful for that.

TCR: Northwestern has beaten three ranked teams this season but had a head scratcher of a loss against Akron. At 7-4, which Northwestern team is a more accurate description of the Big Ten West champions?

Inside NU: Northwestern has this nasty trend of playing up or down to its opponents, but the NU team that has won 6 of 7 is a more accurate description of the Wildcats than the team that started 1-3. Northwestern really should have beat Akron — its postgame win probability was 74 percent — but the Wildcats have responded nicely and have come to play in every game since. The team has been excellent on defense since mid-October, and the offense has done just enough to win games. The numbers may not bear it out, but this is a good team.

TCR: Five of the past six years have seen the Wildcats take the LOL Hat home. Do fans care about this rivalry in Evanston or are Illinois fans more into the rivalry?

Inside NU: The sense I get is that, for Northwestern fans, the games against Iowa and Wisconsin matter much more because they had important Big Ten West implications. I’m not from Illinois, so I can’t say I have a great handle on the rivalry, nor can I say I’ve seen particularly good competition between the two schools either. I would surmise that that Illinois fans care a bit more about the rivalry because this game doesn’t have huge implications for NU, but I could be off-base.

TCR: What was with the shirtless workout last weekend?

Inside NU: Pat Fitzgerald said it was Clayton Thorson’s idea. Clayton Thorson said the offense decided collectively to do it. Either way, no one needed to see Mick McCall shirtless.

TCR: On the sidelines Pat Fitzee appears insufferable, but he wins so who cares. What is he really like?

Inside NU: I think Fitz is a great coach and a great representative of the university. Northwestern is having unprecedented success, but Fitzgerald took the time to name senior members of the marching band, equipment team, video staff, and cheer team at the press conference this week. Not many D-I coaches are doing that. He’s obviously pretty intense on the sidelines, but my experiences with him have been positive, and he’s quick to crack a joke with the media as well. I think he’s about as good as it gets coaching-wise for Northwestern.

TCR: Who wins?

Inside NU: I think Northwestern is going to give up a couple long touchdown runs, but the Wildcats should have no problem moving the ball against a porous Illinois defense. A couple A.J. Bush turnovers are the difference in the game and NU wins 34-21.

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