It’s rivalry week in college football and you know what that means for us: Illinois and Northwestern facing off for the Land of Lincoln trophy.
Both teams will be taking the field in Champaign knowing that this will (likely) be the last game for this season as neither team will be bowl eligible, even with a win. (There is a slight chance a 5-7 Illinois qualifies for a bowl.)
Illinois leads the all time series by one game (55-54-5), as the Illini’s lead has dwindled with Northwestern winning the last six matchups. The last time Illinois won was in 2014, so let’s go back and see how that game went.
The 2014 Land of Lincoln matchup had high stakes as both Illinois and Northwestern came into the game with 5-6 records. In other words, bowl eligibility was on the line for both teams. On one sideline, Pat Fitzgerald was looking to take the Wildcats bowling once again after ending a five-year bowl streak the previous season, and on the other, Tim Beckman was coaching for his job in his third season and trying to get to his first bowl game as Illinois’ coach.
In addition, Beckman made the bold decision to roll in with Reilly O’Toole at quarterback over Wes Lunt for the big game.
Illinois seized the early momentum in this game showing that it came to play and wanted to go bowling. Josh Ferguson and Donovan Young began to run the ball well on the third drive of the game, ending with a TD pass from O’Toole to Malik Turner. Ferguson continued to stayed involved in the game with a huge play in the receiving game, which set himself up for a rushing TD on the same drive to put the Illini up 13-0.
Buoyed by a strong start on offense, the Illini defense came to play forcing turnovers on the next three Northwestern drives. Two of the 3 turnovers led to field goals for the Illini resulting in a 19-0 lead. Illinois went into the locker room regaining the momentum via a 14-yard pass from O’Toole to Mike Dudek after a kickoff return TD from Northwestern.
Starting the second half with a 26-7 advantage the Illini started the second half poorly with an interception on their first drive which led to Northwestern kicking a FG and making it a two possession game at 26-10. After Illinois went up 33-10 following another O’Toole touchdown pass, Northwestern started to gain rhythm on offense scoring on their next two drives, but luckily Illinois had an answer for everything Northwestern threw at them that day. A 33-25 game became a 47-25 game after two 40-yard plays from the Illini; a shifty 46-yard touchdown run from Ferguson and a back-breaking 49-yard pick-six by Mason Monheim.
The game ended as a 47-33 victory for the Illini and sent Illinois to its first bowl game since the 2011 season.
Here’s our recap from this wonderful game. Oh, by the way, HAT! HAT! HAT! HAT! HAT! HAT! HAT! HAT! HAT! HAT! HAT! HAT! HAT! HAT! HAT! HAT! HAT! HAT!
Like I said earlier, since that game Northwestern has had our number and won the last six matchups. The Wildcats have also been to bowl games 5 of the last 6 seasons, truly owning this rivalry.
While we don’t necessarily have bowl eligibility on the line this time around, the game is important nonetheless as it gives the Illini an opportunity to regain bragging rights and maintain a lead in the overall series. It’s also an opportunity for Bret Bielema to make his mark in this rivalry and show Pat Fitzgerald he has a worthy in-state foe. Let’s hope Northwestern’s streak ends at six.