Now is the time to rewrite this season. Most people would be happy with 6-6 and a bowl game birth. Expectations change.
Northwestern, a team that has righted itself under Pat Fitzgerald's stewardship, has struggled to a 2-9, 0-for conference record. Meanwhile, the Illini have altered their course to a bowl eligible season at 6-5, with wins over No. 6 Wisconsin and Michigan State in the greatest comeback in school history.
This should be a game to take advantage of that disparity. It's senior day, it's the last home game before the bowl. 7-5 is the goal now. This is a bad football team. Averaging 15 points per game offensively. Expectations change.
Offense: All about Dre (and Reggie)
This game should be a tough, grind-it-out game for Illinois. Northwestern is still a physical, talented defense. That starts up front with defensive tackle Joe Gaziano, who leads the team with 15 tackles for loss, including 8 sacks. Linebackers Blake Gallagher and Paddy Fisher are big run stuffers who tackle well and are technically proficient. Yards might be hard to come by up front. However, using outside runs, like counters and zone blocking with cutback lanes, could open things up for the running game.
That should help the two seniors Dre Brown and Reggie Corbin put the finishing touches on a comeback season. Limit Gaziano and get outside, and there should be holes to run through. If you can run for 200 yards against Iowa's front, it should be a similar day against the Wildcats.
Passing wise, it depends on who's out there. If it's Robinson or Williams, the running game should be that much stronger, but the passing game will suffer. If Peters is healthy enough, it should open things up more. Get Navarro involved more. Daniel Barker too. If there's a big play to Imatorbhebhe you take it. For fits and spurts, the passing game was effective against Iowa with Peters. Limit the mistakes and don't out think yourself Rod Smith, and this should be a winnable scoring matchup.
Defense: Get Pressure
The biggest reason Iowa was so effective offensively is that Nate Stanley had all day to throw the ball. Northwestern might be down to their third string quarterback against the Illini. Dial up the pressure. Someone needs to win a one-on-one battle on the outside. Iowa's tackles are NFL caliber players. The Wildcat's are not. Play the run like last week. Force Andrew Marty or Hunter Johnson or whoever is playing quarterback into some errant throws. Win the turnover battle. This team has the worst offense in the Big Ten. Don't beat yourselves and things will take care of themselves.
Coaching: Don't underestimate, don't overthink
This is Illinois. We should not overlook anyone. Including the in-state rival who is looking to knock you down a peg.
That being said, this is a bad team. If Illinois runs the football well, cuts down on turnovers, creates some of their own, this should be a fun senior day and a big win. I understand mixing some things up, but you shouldn't need any trick plays to beat this team. It's pretty straightforward. Expectations change. 7-5 with a chance for 8 wins is within your grasp. Seize the opportunity, and reclaim the Hat.