Illinois 48, Northwestern 27: Just the facts
Bob Asmussen's breakdown of Saturday's game
PLAY OF THE GAME
Just a simple call. Give the ball to No. 5 and see how far he can go. The answer, on the first carry of the game, was 32 yards. It was early proof that it was going to be a special day for Mikel Leshoure. The most special. For any Illinois running back. Using the 32-yard run as a blueprint, the Illini kept giving it to Leshoure, and he produced. He averaged 10 yards per carry. Coaches will take a first-down run on every first down. Leshoure becomes a lock for All-Big Ten and might push his way into the MVP race. Leshoure is within 310 yards of Rashard Mendenhall's Illinois season record.
NUMBERS GAME: 45.4
That's the Illinois scoring average in the last five games. Paul Petrino's offense seems to have picked up some legs. The team has scored at least 40 points in four of its last five games. And holding the ball for 41:16 like it did Saturday will help improve the defensive averages after Vic Koenning's unit gave up 103 points against Michigan and Minnesota. The 21 points Illinois scored in the opening quarter was the second most in the Ron Zook era.
WHAT IT MEANS
Illinois is going bowling. Definitely. For the first time since 2007 and for the fourth time since 1994. The bowl options for the Illini could come down to two games in the Lone Star State: Texas and TicketCity. The Insight Bowl was represented Saturday, so maybe that's a third option. The big question will be where Illinois lines up in the Big Ten pecking order after the big four: Wisconsin, Ohio State, Michigan State and Iowa. The Illini are battling Michigan, Penn State and Northwestern for the remaining spots.
The Illini get next weekend off. But that doesn't mean there won't be any football this week. The players will take a break Monday to Wednesday, then return Thursday evening for a workout. They will also practice Friday, Saturday and Sunday before going into game- week mode. The regular season finale is Dec. 3 at Fresno State. The Bulldogs, who beat Illinois in an amazing 2009 game, got trounced Friday night by Boise State.