College/Prep Sports Reporter
Scott Richey is a reporter covering college basketball at The News-Gazette. His email is email@example.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@srrichey).
What you need to know about the Illini's 29-10 loss to Northwestern on a dismal day in Champaign:
Northwestern looked like the bowl team, dominating in ever facet on Senior Day at Memorial Stadium. And Illinois looked like the team playing out the string.
WHAT IT MEANS
Illinois still needs one more victory to finish with a winning season. It also appears to be afraid of Wildcats, losing for the fifth consecutive time to its rival.
First, they feast. The team has its annual banquet Sunday. Then, they wait. They’ll find out their bowl destination on Dec. 8.
Player of the game
Northwestern quarterback Andrew Marty
Think about this for a moment. Marty is the Wildcats’ fourth-string quarterback. Fourth string. He certainly didn’t play like it. The 6-foot-3, 227-pound sophomore rushed 30 times for 111 yards and two touchdowns and threw for a third touchdown for good measure.
The Illini entered the fourth quarter with a single negative yard of rushing. The final number wasn’t all that much better — just 14 yards on 26 carries — with Matt Robinson passing for 108 yards but taking three sacks. The Wildcats, meanwhile, rushed for a season-high 378 yards.
What Northwestern did wasn’t tricky. The Wildcats ran the ball. Then ran it some more. A total of 65 times out of 75 plays. The Illini simply didn’t make plays other than an early Nate Hobbs interception and another by Stanley Green Jr. that was wiped out by a penalty. Northwestern’s 378 rushing yards was also a season-high allowed by Illinois.
Mixed bag from Illini kicker James McCourt. He missed from 49 yards on a field goal, and although he made one from 50, he banked it in off the right upright. Northwestern’s Charlie Kuhbander went 1 of 2 (made from 33, miss from 36), but he also missed a PAT.
The way Illinois was running the ball — as in not well — sticking with the ground game on third-and-long opportunities was a little curious. So was not going to the passing game a little more. It was cold Saturday afternoon, but the rain held off during the game. Defensively, things simply fell apart. The players didn’t execute, but the buck stops with the coaches.
The one caveat for the Illini’s disastrous regular-season finale was the number of players unavailable because of injuries. Of course, Northwestern wasn’t at full strength either and seemed to manage. Bowl game already secured, Illinois could have finished the regular season on a strong note. Instead, the Illini stumbled to the finish with consecutive losses to go 6-6.