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Senior Sydney Brown and the lllini had plenty to celebrate: a 41-3 rout of Northwestern and the return of the Land of Lincoln Trophy to Champaign. Coverage — In Sports and at news-gazette.com.

Beat writer Scott Richey's take on Saturday's 41-3 Illini romp:

Player of the game

Illinois safety Sydney Brown

The Illini defense made life miserable for Northwestern quarterback Cole Freeman. Not that the Wildcats' third stringer was in a position to succeed, but Illinois turned him into a turnover machine. Brown in particular. The Illini senior safety intercepted Freeman twice, returning one for a touchdown, and also found the end zone on a scoop-and-score fumble recovery. Brown’s big game made him the first college football player with two interceptions, one pick six and one fumble recovery for a touchdown in a single game since SMU’s Kenneth Acker against Stephen F. Austin in 2012.

Offense

Illinois: C+

Northwestern: F-

Did Illinois do enough offensively on a day when very little was needed because of the Illini defense? Sure. Was it a sterling example of what the offense can be at its best? Not as such. Tommy DeVito took a few sacks and didn't match his typical efficiency in the passing game, and Chase Brown didn’t have the same pop in the run game. But Northwestern was worse.

Defense

Illinois: A+

Northwestern: C-

This was peak September/October level Illinois defense. The kind of dominance that had the Illini ranked first nationally in total defense. The real difference was the turnovers Illinois forced — mostly after Northwestern crossed midfield. Six total takeaways turning into 17 points helped spur the Illini’s blowout victory.

Special teams

Illinois: A

Northwestern: C

Can’t give the Illini anything but an “A” after Caleb Griffin’s perfect day with two made field goals and five successful extra point attempts. Not to mention speed threat on the edge Hugh Robertson. The Illinois punter caught Northwestern sleeping and broke off a 23-yard run on a fake punt reminiscent of fellow Aussie and former Illini Blake Hayes.

Coaching

Illinois: B-

Northwestern: D

Still some head scratching decisions in the red zone despite scoring two touchdowns in three attempts. It was the drive that ended in a field goal after a Devon Witherspoon interception and two gifted penalties by the Wildcats that caused some concern. Missed assignments. Zero creativity. It remains an area to woken for Barry Lunney Jr. and Co. before next season.

Overall

Illinois: A-

Northwestern: D

If there’s such a thing as a ho hum blowout, Illinois had one Saturday in Evanston. There was just enough complementary football between a lockdown defense, effective special teams and only OK offense. That was good enough, though, against a Northwestern team that ends the 2022 season having won exactly zero games on U.S. soil. Anything but a blowout might have been a letdown.

Scott Richey is a reporter covering college basketball at The News-Gazette. His email is srichey@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@srrichey).

College/Prep Sports Reporter

Scott Richey is a reporter covering college basketball at The News-Gazette. His email is srichey@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@srrichey).

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