EVANSTON, Ill. — At least the Illini ended the regular season on a high note.
Just three short weeks ago, Illinois (8-4, 5-4 Big Ten) controlled its own destiny in the West with a 4-1 conference record, but a three-game skid halted that. Heading to Ryan Field on Saturday, the Illini knew they needed some help this weekend to claim their spot in Indy.
Illinois knew its part this weekend was to beat lowly Northwestern (1-11, 1-8 Big Ten), a team that hadn’t won since August (in Ireland). Behind a consistent rushing attack and a dominant defense, Illinois breezed by its rival, 41-3, and hung on to the Land of Lincoln Trophy.
“These guys were locked into playing a really good game,” said head coach Bret Bielema.
But the Illini needed to get some help from the Huskers and Hoosiers. Step one was Nebraska getting the win over Iowa.
“Obviously Nebraska wins yesterday and everybody starts talking about that,” Bielema said. “But our guys just worried about playing this game.”
Unfortunately for Illinois, Indiana could not get the job done against Purdue on Saturday — meaning the Boilers are the team representing the Big Ten West next Saturday in the Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis.
HOW IT HAPPENED
Illinois forced six turnovers on the day, including five interceptions (two each from Sydney Brown and Devon Witherspoon). Brown scored two defensive touchdowns, one on a pick-six and one on a scoop-and-score.
“[Sydney Brown] is a terror out there,” Bielema said. “He's a very exciting player to watch.”
His star brother Chase didn’t have a big game for the Illini in the backfield, going down an injury in the first quarter.
“Just didn't really want to put [Chase Brown] back in there at the end,” Bielema said.
He returned sparingly, but backup Reggie Love had a big day rushing for one score. Tommy DeVito added another on a QB sneak.
The other two scores were a couple Caleb Griffin field goals, and the Illini have won 8 games for the first time since 2007. They’ll also be announced to their first bowl game since 2019 in the next couple weeks.
“A year ago we were a game shy of bowl eligibility, this year we were a game shy of making it to Indy,” Bielema said. “I couldn’t be more excited about this team and where we’re at, but more importantly where we’re going.”
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
LOVE TRAIN: Star RB Chase Brown went down in the first quarter during the Illini’s second drive of the game, but backup Reggie Love was ready to go. After coming in for Brown, Love rushed for 43 yards and the first Illini touchdown of the afternoon.
SPOON FLIPS THE FIELD: A 5-minute Northwestern drive into the redzone ended with Devon Witherspoon’s second interception of the season (realistically like his fourth). A series of spin moves later, he set the Illini up in Wildcats territory. Illinois finished the drive with a field goal to go up 10-0. He then picked off Freeman again to close out the first-half on a Hail Mary attempt.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Fake punt alert! Hugh Robertson has some wheels!
It’s Big Time Tommy.
A true ironman.
Alex Palczewski started for the 64th time in his career, extending his Illinois and Big Ten record for career starts.— Illini Stats & Notes (@IlliniStats) November 26, 2022
Palczewski trails only Appalachian State's Thomas Hennigan (65, 2017-21) for the most starts in FBS history.#Illini | #HTTO
TWEET OF THE GAME
Did you know Michigan obliterated OSU?
Illinois put up a far better fight against Michigan on the road than OSU did at home— Kyle Tausk (@ktausk13) November 26, 2022
Bowl season awaits.
We’ll know that destination in the coming weeks and let you know right here on TCR.