‘Cats-Illini: Paint By Numbers

If the LTP poll is any indication of the pulse of Wildcat Nation, most fans are confident NU will take care of business on senior day, yet the gaudy 19ish point spread has fans skeptical. Today, we take a look at the stats for both team that will hopefully underscore the projected gameplans for each team in Saturday’s battle for the Land of Lincoln trophy which has been showcased in Champaign since the 2010 game. As we do each week we first compare head to head stats and then give you context on how each team ranks both within the B1G and in context nationally. It won’t take long to see that just like last Michigan State, the Illini struggle mightily to move the ball and even moreso in terms of scoring. Both bode well for a ‘Cats defense that will be looking to keep the Illini to single digits and help setup the ‘Cats for a resounding win. First, the offenses:

Northwestern Offense VS Illinois Offense

Offense Passing Rushing Total Offense Scoring Offense 3rd Down Conv. Red Zone Offense
Northwestern 171.8 ypg  221.2 ypg 393.0 ypg 29.8 ppg 73/164 44.5% 39/44 ( 19rush,7pass TD, 13FG) 89%
Illinois 173.6 ypg 128.0 ypg 301.6 ypg 16.9 ppg 53/164 32.3 % 21/29 ( 9rush, 8pass TD, 4FG) 72%

The Illini have the statistical edge in just one category – passing offense – but barely. Led by Nathan Scheelhaase, the Illini put up just under two yards more per game which is 10th in the B1G and 105th nationally. The Illini have reached the 20-point mark just three times this season against FBS teams (they put up 44 vs Charleston Southern) and two of those were garbage time points in blowout losses (54-24 L LA Tech, 52-22 L Ohio St.).  To say they struggle to score is an understatement. Donovonn Young leads the way with a mere 45 ypg in the rushing attack, which is 10th in the B1G and 95th overall. Not surprisingly, the anemic passing AND rushing efforts add up to the worst total offense in the conference and 116th in the entire country. When it comes to scoring, again, dead last in the B1G and 118th in the FBS. Only Idaho and Colorado score less, and even that is close as they are all in the 16 ppg range.  The key for Northwestern, as it is in every game, is to get to third down. The Illini are miserable in 3rd down conversions – 112th to be exact. Not surprisingly, the Illini have entered the red zone considerably fewer times (15) than NU and are just 108th when they do get there. All in all, you couldn’t paint a much less intimidating offense.

Northwestern is by no means an elite offense, but when juxtaposed against the Illini we look like world beaters.  As mentioned above Northwestern’s passing offense is one slot behind the Illini, 11th in the B1G and a woeful 106th nationally. Obviously, with a 220-ish yard passing attack on Saturday, and keeping the Illini in check, we’ll be able to pass them in every category for the season. The rushing game continues to be the shining star of this season, and despite Venric Mark being injured after only six carries last week, we’re still 3rd in the B1G and 19th nationally with our ground game. Both Kain Colter and Venric Mark are expected to play, but the tea leaves leave me to believe Kain will get more time than Venric. Our total offense ranks 6th in the B1G and 73rd nationally and our just about 30 ppg is pretty average by both B1G standards (5th) and FBS standards (54th). We continue to be a perennial positive in 3rd down, as we’re tied for 35th in that crucial down, one slot beind Alabama. Perhaps the second biggest improvement behind our rushing game is our red zone performance. A head scratcher in past years with our spread, this year, we’ve been able to pound it home, mostly with TDs as our 26 red zone TDs on 39 trips have included 19 rushing TDs. Of course Jeff Budzien has been nearly perfect all season long and been a major factor in our 89% conversion mark.  Jeff Budzien seems to me to be a lock for the Lou Groza award, but that’s a whole different post.

Now, we put both defenses under the scope, and you may be surprised by the Illini’s numbers.

Northwestern Defense vs Illinois Defense

Defense Passing Rushing Total Defense Scoring Defense Sacks/TFLs 3rd Down Defense
Northwestern 275.9 ypg 122.5 ypg 398.4 ypg 23.6 ppg 2.1pg/5.1 pg 69/167 41.3 %
Illinois 201.1 ypg 180.8 ypg 381.9 ypg 30.5 ppg 1.8pg/5.1pg 40/135 29.6 %

NU Defense

The ‘Cats as you know don’t fare well in 2012 in any category involving the pass. As poor as we are on offense in passing numbers, we’re worse on defense. Dead last in passing defense in the B1G and 108th nationally. Conversely, we’re as productive on defending the rush as we are punishing teams on offense. We rank 4th in the B1G and 19th in the FBS. After this stat, we enter average-ville. We’re 6th in scoring D in the B1G, 37th nationally and an average 66th in the FBS in total defense, but 11th in the very defense-oriented Big Ten. After a year of high criticism for a non-existent pass rush, the ‘Cats have really arrow upped their sacks going from just 17 in 2011 to a Big Ten 5th best 22 or 2 per game so far in 2012. Our sack total is 53rd nationally. As for tackles for loss, we’ve got a long way to go as we’re just 11th in conference and tied with Illinois for 81st nationally in that category. I continue to look forward to 2013 and I’m feeling pretty darn positive about it on defense as I believe Dean Lowry will step right in and possibly even improve upon the good work Quentin Williams has done this year and Ifeadi Odenigbo getting his first full season to back up Lowry or Tyler Scott. When you put a healthy Nick VanHoose at CB and Traveon Henry flanking junior-to-be Ibraheim Campbell at the safety spot, you really start getting jacked. But alas, I’m getting WAY ahead of myself. We’re 69th on 3rd down D for what it’s worth. Let’s look at the Illini.

If you go simply by the stat sheet, you may think this game could turn in to some of the ‘Cats classics against our rival like the time we didn’t pass but once as Brett Basanez handed off to Jason Wright and Noah Herron in a running clinic. The Illini are 10th against the run and 84th nationally. Obviously, Kain Colter and Venric Mark’s ability to go full throttle will impact our gameplan and productivity here. I do expect big things from Mike Trumpy who seems to have his best game annually against the Illini. One of the biggest criticisms of first year head coach Tim Beckman is the fact he’s not winning more with four future NFL players on that side of the ball. Terry Hawthorne, perhaps my alltime favorite Illini, anchors a secondary that has helped Illinois be a respectable 6th best B1G team against the pass (29th nationally). They are 8th in the B1G in total D and 11th in conference in scoring D. Nationally, they are 48th and 82nd nationally in those respective categories. The statistical outlier of this team is their 3rd down defense which is 8th in the entire country. They’re 8th in sacks in conference (tied 69th in FB) and as we mentioned tied with NU in TFLs.

So there you have it, a numbers heavy post that paints the obvious. Northwestern will try and win this game by taking the strong ground game and challenging the pourous run defense.  The weather is expected to be hovering around the freezing mark, conducive for a rush heavy attack. However, we all know that numbers mean little when the ‘Cats and Illini square off.

  • bandcat

    Expect the unexpected in this one. Well said in that the numbers mean little when we square off against the Illini. Personally i want this win real bad. The Wrigley pasting still does not sit well and our last visit to Sham Pain sucked.Underclassman need to step up BIG time to send our Seniors out the Right Way. Go Cats


      This is the Illini’s bowl game. Makes me nervous. I expect us to win by atleast 14 but would not be surprised if this one is decided by a field goal.

      • bandcat

        Roger that. A non-nailbiter would be nice,just not our style..regretfully.Bringing the friends and family Saturday. Go Cats!

  • David

    Any chance Kane racks up 260 rushing yards in the next two games? After the drought since 2006 it would be amazing to have two 1,000 yard rushers.

    • David


  • Henry in CT

    This has to be a warm up for our new years day game. We know what Colter can do. I would like to see Siemian play most of the game and throw the ball at least 40 times.

  • tissler

    I like your thinking, but let’s not get too crazy and assume we already have 9 wins. Check the headline.


      Trust me, I am assuming nothing. This game worries me. Yet, we know it is inevitable that Fitz will be securing his all-time place at NU by next season. Heck, it may be kind of cool to invite some of his family that is still alive as well.

    • Freudian. Second time I’ve done that this year. Let’s hope it’s the same harbinger.


    Chumpbanana has little hope: http://www.thechampaignroom.com/2012/11/23/3682182/these-four-things-illinois-at-northwestern
    Hey LTP: I would like to pass along an idea that I think Phillips should consider. Cal has a group of players called ‘Pappy’s boys’. They meet every year to celebrate their coach and the good guy he was. With Fitz about ready to pass up Pappy Waldorf, wouldn’t it be a nice gesture to have as many of his old players that we can and have them honored at halftime next year. It was during his tenure at NU that he got the nickname ‘Pappy’…one of the greats.

  • CliffG

    Thanks for the stats. They actually make me more nervous than I was because they don’t suggest that we’re that much better than they are. I don’t think the 19 pts spread is justified, as much as I would love to see a blow out.