The bloodbath of a season for the Illinois Fighting Illini will come to an end, win or lose, on Saturday afternoon. Illinois will try one last time to find their 3rd win of the season. They’ve been looking to find that victory since September 15th. Illinois opened the year with a couple of wins in a row. That looks nice and all, but note that they came against Ball State and Western Kentucky. They will take on the 8-3 Northwestern Wildcats on Saturday afternoon.
Ball State are one of the worst teams in all of college football, and Western Kentucky have not looked the same without Brandon Doughty at quarterback. And also note, they barely beat Ball State, a win of 24-21. It may have not looked so bad at the time, but looking at Ball State now, it’s a horrendous win. Illinois are looking for a morale victory in the season finale against Northwestern. Meanwhile, the Wildcats want to finish strong and improve their bowl portfolio.
Illinois are coming off a 52-14 drubbing to Ohio State. Ohio State scored on every one of their first six possessions, and prevented Illinois from getting a first down until late in the first-half. The Fighting Illini weren’t expected to be much of a team this season, but one decent win would have felt nice. They still have a chance for a good win today against the Wildcats of Northwestern. This matchup is for the Land of Lincoln Trophy. Northwestern is of course located in Illinois, so this is yet another rivalry game on Rivalry Week.
Northwestern have won the last two games and are 4-1 in their last five matchups. Illinois are playing with true freshmen from all over the field, on offense and defense. Head coach Lovie Smith hasn’t been shy about giving the newcomers playing experience. Illinois have started 14 freshmen, including nearly the entire offensive line.
The quarterback position has been a turnstile thanks to poor play and injuries. They’ve cycled through four different quarterbacks. The future is freshman Cam Thomas, who has gotten experience this year, but has battled through injuries. Can Illinois get by on pure adrenaline alone? We’ll see on Saturday afternoon in Champaign. Head below for our free Northwestern vs. Illinois pick.
Northwestern Wildcats vs. Illinois Fighting Illini Betting Odds:
vs. Illinois +16.5(-110)
Betting odds provided by Bovada.lv
Northwestern vs. Illinois Pick:
The status for Cam Thomas, and backup Jeff George Jr is not completely clear. Lovie Smith said he’s hopeful he can get them back this week. Third stringer, Chayce Crouch, started the contest against Ohio State last week out of necessity. Crouch was moved to tight end after it was apparent it wasn’t going to work out for him at quarterback. He went 4-of-14 passing for 16 yards against the Buckeyes.
On the season, Crouch has thrown 1 touchdown and 4 interceptions. Thomas has thrown no touchdowns and 3 interceptions. He is connecting on 40% of his passes. Lovie Smith would like to give the freshman some experience in a rivalry game, if for nothing else. Jeff George’s son, George Jr, is the most accomplished quarterback on the roster, as he’s passed for 7 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
Whoever gets the start for Illinois, it’s not exactly an ideal situation for Illinois. Northwestern are going to dare the Fighting Illini to throw the ball all game long. Northwestern are terrific against the run, allowing just 112.3 rushing yards per game, 10th in the FBS. Illinois are 122nd at running the ball, so I don’t expect much success in that regard. Their only hope here to find some plays downfield, and given the quarterback situation, that doesn’t look like an easy chore.
Northwestern running back, Justin Jackson, became the second running back in the Big Ten to rush for 1,000 yards in four straight seasons. Former Wisconsin back Ron Dayne is the other. He also joins a list of nine running backs in all of college football who pulled off the feat. Jackson will head to the NFL in the draft this coming spring, as he gets one last opportunity to beat Illinois on Saturday afternoon. Jackson gashed Minnesota last week, rushing for 166 yards on the Gophers.
He has 1,110 yards and 8 touchdowns, and will add to that total this week and in a bowl game. Illinois are 113th in the nation against the run, allowing an average of 210.4 yards per game. These rivalry games can often be tricky to predict, but I think Northwestern should be able to take care of the worst offense and defense in the Big Ten. Jackson will be in for a big game, as he runs away to give Northwestern a win and cover. 34-14 ball game in Champaign on Saturday.