Northwestern had been separated from its lone trophy for two years. Defeating Illinois mattered for state ownership, for that trophy and for bowl positioning.
Obliterating Illinois? Well, that was just a ton of fun.
Northwestern had a rough start, missing tackles and giving up a touchdown on the opening drive. That would be about the only negatives you could find from a 50-14 Northwestern win at Ryan Field on Saturday, wrapping up a 9-3 regular season and a likely Florida trip on January 1.
The Wildcats outscored the Illini 17-0 in the third quarter, taking the opening drive of the second half 11 plays for 75 yards, capped off with a 15-yard touchdown pass from Kain Colter to Tyris Jones. It opened the flood gates as Northwestern expanded a 27-14 halftime lead to 48-14 at the end of the third quarter.
Colter passed for 102 yards on 9-for-11 passing, throwing for three touchdowns. He added 88 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries. Venric Mark had 127 yards on 18 carries, adding a touchdown to his total. The Wildcats held the Illini to 242 total yards, completely dominating the game after that early moment of shakiness.
Northwestern methodically ran the ball throughout the game, passing the ball sparingly and dominating the line of scrimmage throughout.
The problems for Illinois started after that moment of brilliance on the first drive. The Illini gave up a field goal on the Wildcats’ first drive, then they proceeded to fumble the ball on the ensuing kickoff when C.J. Bryant separated the ball from the returner and right into the hands of Cameron Dickerson. Northwestern scored fairly quickly after that on a two-yard Kain Colter run.
The rout appeared to be on after that.
Illinois could not get out of its own way. On a Northwestern drive, Illinois committed two sideline interference penalties — including one where Tim Beckman tripped over the referee to draw the flag. Illinois continually committed penalties including holding penalties and personal fouls. The Illini had eight penalties for 88 yards in the first half and each penalty seemed to kill momentum and keep the Illini from building any type of momentum.
Northwestern stopped missing tackles and stopped making many mistakes on defense. David Nwabuisi, Ibraheim Campbell and Nick VanHoose each had interceptions that set up scores. Northwestern’s only turnovers before the fourth quarter that did not matter was followed on the next play by Nwabuisi’s pick and long return.
The Wildcats took advantage of every Illini miscue and finally buried an opponent.
Illinois stood no chance in this game once Northwestern took the lead. NU showed the killer instinct that so many people have wanted to see in this team. It made the fourth quarter fun as Pat Fitzgerald gave team and fan-favorite Bo Cisek a few carries near the goalline and fourth-string quarterback P.J. Carollo got snaps at the end of the game.
Northwestern was clearly very focused on making a statement against its in-state rival. And the team made one, giving Pat Fitzgerald a Gatorade bath for tying Pappy Waldorf for the program’s all-time win mark.
There was nothing to be upset about in this game. Nothing to complain about (go ahead and try).
Northwestern simply dominated, scoring a big win over a hated rival and securing a strong bowl position. There is only one goal left to accomplish now. And we have a month to prepare for it.