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TCR Staff Predictions: Illinois vs. Northwestern

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How do you see the regular season finale playing out?

NCAA Football: Illinois at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Stephen Cohn: Illinois 28, Northwestern 6

I swear I’ve watched a lot of Northwestern football this year — don’t ask why — and I don’t think the Wildcats have scored a touchdown. Like I know they’ve got a few, but just, the offense is so anemic. Not that the Illini’s offense minus Brandon Peters will be some electrifying show, but it should be more than enough to get a few scores, let the defense do its thing, and everything else should let itself work. This isn’t your grandpa’s older brother’s Northwestern.

Tristen Kissack: Illinois 27, Northwestern 20

What a turnaround it’s been for this team. There’s a lot riding on this matchup — the HAT, securing a solid bowl, so many streak regular season streaks that could be snapped — and Illinois has played the better football lately. Brandon Peters’ status is still up in the air which is concerning and will make this one tighter than it should be, but the Illini win even if it is a battle of the backup QBs.

Drew Pastorek: Illinois 23, Northwestern 12

You can be upset with last week’s loss to Iowa. That’s your prerogative. We can grumble about a play here or a play there or a targeting call that was DEFINITELY NOT targeting (I mean, the referees are never wrong), but the fact is that Illinois lost by single digits to a ranked opponent on the road. I’m not going to lose sleep over it. Now the Illini have a chance to send off their seniors right.

Northwestern’s season has been a complete trainwreck. The Wildcats went from representing the B1G West in the conference championship game last year...to being Purple Rutgers. Their offense gains fewer than 285 yards per game, mostly because of Northwestern’s nightmarish QB situation. The team’s four quarterbacks -- T.J. Green, Hunter Johnson, Aidan Smith, and Andrew Marty have COMBINED for five touchdown throws all season. They simply are not a threat to beat you passing the ball. What does make them a threat is their defense. Linebackers Paddy Fisher & Blake Gallagher are tackling machines and defensive end Joe Gaziano just broke the Wildcats’ all-time sack record.

I expect this to be a typical ugly, unspectacular Northwestern/Illinois game. Illini OC Rod Smith said earlier this week that he’s “comfortable” with Matt Robinson at quarterback if Brandon Peters can’t go. In the end I’m not sure it really matters. The Wildcats are disciplined enough to stay in it, but just won’t have enough offense. The Illini will force the Cats into too many mistakes, Dre and Reggie will bust loose for a couple of big runs, and Illinois will finally win back the Sweet Sioux Tomahawk -- uh, Land of Lincoln Trophy.

Raul Rodriguez: Illinois 24, Northwestern 7

This is going to be a slogfest but it will be an enjoyable slogfest because the Illini will win. More importantly, they will secure a winless Big Ten record for Northwestern and their crumdegon of their coach, Pat Fitzgerald. As for how this one plays out, expect Matt Robinson or Brandon Peters to do just enough in the passing game while Dre and Reggie get enough explosive plays in the run game to create 4-5 scoring opportunities for the Illini. On Defense, I expect the Illini to completely shutdown Northwestern’s Blue Collar (that got left behind in globalization) offense. Maybe Pat Fitzgerald will evolve after this disaster of a season but hopefully not.

Michael Berns: Illinois 38, Northwestern 13

I’m drinking and bathing in the orange Koolaid while taking a piss in the purple punch. That’s right. I predicted three Illinois wins this season, and here we are with six and a chance to win a seventh (and an eighth if we win the bowl game!). I’m extremely confident in these Illini despite the concern surrounding Brandon Peters and his recovery from a concussion. Why? “Bad” does not even begin to describe Northwestern’s pass offense. It’s hard to put into words just how hard Northwestern makes passing the football look — and that’s after watching a few Rutgers games. I expect two or three defensive/special teams touchdowns for the Illini.

Our seniors, who are far better people than I am (Reggie Corbin, Dele Harding, Jamal Milan, among others) have not beaten Northwestern in their careers. This season and all it’s given us, and all they’ve given us, ends with a BANG.

Thumpasaurus: Illinois 38, Northwestern 0

I heard a lot of talk before last week’s game about how much the 63-0 loss to Iowa fueled the Illini. They may have failed to out-execute Iowa, which is a tough team to out-execute, but you could see that motivation was for real. This team has finally found its footing and now that they’re rolling, they’re motivated to take what they must feel they’ve earned.

It really seems that something clicked when the Wisconsin game proved that the years of hard work and grinding away without ever seeming to come any closer really would pay off for these upperclassmen. They’ve been punishing those who disrespect them. Michigan let up early with a big lead and stopped taking the game seriously; Illinois punished them by rallying. Wisconsin disrespected the Illini by running a limited playbook and continuing to telegraph plays into the heart of the defense, sending the message that they didn’t think Illinois could stop them even if they knew the play. They were proven wrong. Purdue disrespected the Illini with the arrogant belief that they could throw the ball to quickly make up an early deficit. They were punished for their haphazard squandering of possessions with a pick-six and a lopsided defeat. Rutgers also played Illinois. Michigan State assumed their 28-3 lead was safe enough that they didn’t need to grind out the clock and keep it on the ground, and they assumed they could cover Imatorbhebhe 1-on-1 despite being presented with evidence to the contrary. Iowa disrespected Brandon Peters by refusing to take seriously his willingness to run the ball. They disrespected Donny Navarro by acting like Imatorbhebhe was the only receiving threat. Iowa was punished for both of these acts, and it’s unfortunate that the Illini couldn’t come away with the win but I believe Iowa got the message. The point is that since the Minnesota game, this Illinois team has risen to the challenge every time their opponent has dared to insult them.

You wanna talk disrespect? Nobody has disrespected the Illini more than Pat Fitzgerald and the Wildcats. Last year, as Illinois drove down the field with a chance to tie the game, Fitzgerald’s starters remained on the sideline because he didn’t think Illinois was worth using his entire team to defeat. It’s the most disrespectful and arrogant thing I’ve ever seen in a “rivalry game,” and justice would have prevailed had Ricky Smalling somehow caught that last gasp. That smug prick benched his offensive starters with a two score lead at halftime. That’s a far cry from 2017, when Clayton Thorson was still in the game throwing on 4th and 7 in the fourth quarter of a blowout win. They’ve held the Hat hostage for too long, and frankly their presence on the same field as the Illini is insulting.

I don’t believe the Illini will stand for this.

Matt Rejc: Illinois 31, Northwestern 10

This game should be pretty straightforward if Brandon Peters is able to play, but it gets immeasurably tougher if he has to sit out. Illinois has a stable of backup quarterbacks, but each has his own limitations that Northwestern could exploit. I would like to see Matthew Robinson play if Peters is out, but cases could be made for Coran Taylor or Isaiah Williams, if the latter is healthy.

Northwestern’s offense is far from intimidating, but the Illinois defense will need to contain Riley Lees to ensure a victory. I expect Dele Harding to continue to dominate, and Khalan Tolson to continue developing into a solid B1G linebacker.