Illinois Preview and Prediction
By Eric Cockerill
Matchup: #19 Northwestern Wildcats (7-4, 7-1 B1G WEST CHAMPIONS!!!) vs Illinois Illini (4-7, 2-6 B1G)
Date: Saturday, November 24, 2:30 p.m. CST
Line: Northwestern (-17); ESPN FPI: NU 92.1% chance to win; O/U 58.0
Last Week’s Review
I bet if you asked Fitzgerald, last week’s game was extremely
satisfying. The Gophers are unpredictable, but certainly
dangerous. However, the Cats looked in control and steady
throughout the game. Zero turnovers for the Cats, while taking
the ball away three times is certainly in the Cat game plan each
week. Again aided by a stout run defense and serviceable, if
unspectacular run game, Thorson was able to avoid mistakes and let NU’s
superior personnel wear down the Gophers for a final score of 24 to
14. That takes the Cats’ record to 7-4 overall with an excellent
chance of getting to 8 wins before the Big Ten Championship game.
Certainly not the outcome that we expected after the losses to Duke and
Akron at the start of the season.
At this point, it’s apparent that the team has improved from the
beginning of the year and the coaching staff has discovered the formula
that gives them a good chance to win each week. On offense,
Thorson can be inconsistent in terms of accuracy, but his knee has
healed to the point where he is again a threat to run and can certainly
win (or lose) games with his arm. Frankly, NU could probably
score more points by relying on a more aggressive air attack, but
against comparable or worse opponents, Fitz just isn’t willing to take
those risks. The running game is fairly one dimensional with only
runs between the tackles effective with results that are pedestrian,
but good enough to allow the offense to put consistent pressure on
opposing defenses. I have no stats to back it up (food coma to
blame), but clearly the specter of three-and-outs are greatly reduced
over the recent run of success.
On defense, the strength is against the run. Without a doubt,
that strength has created major problems for all their opponents so far
and a major reason for their success. The pass defense is much less
consistent with a pass rush that is MIA for long stretches and a medium
to long pass defense that, honestly, is cause for anxiety. Like
the run offense, the pass defense is just good enough to cause
takeaways when needed.
Next Up, the Illini
Illinois continues to make steady progress under head coach Lovie
“Grizzly Adams” Smith, though slower than hoped by their fan
base. On the season, the Illini have won four games against
inferior or similar teams in terms of talent level, but also lost a few
games they could have won (Nebraska and Maryland) and been blown out
several times, including a 63-0 shellacking by Iowa last week.
Those embarrassing losses in particular have the alumni and local press
actively questioning how much longer Smith will have to turn things
On offense, the Illini are markedly reliant on a single strength, but
it’s a good one. Their running game is extremely impressive with
mark of 6 yards per carry. In particular, good production from
Reggie Corbin and contributions from quarterback Al Bush Jr lead that
attack. Their passing attack leaves much more to be desired and
is considered a significant weakness. Bush Jr. tends to pull down
the ball to run at the slightest pressure and is not particularly
accurate even on a good day. Still, the Illini are able to put up
large scoring numbers even when reliant on the running game, especially
against weaker defenses.
On defense, there are no strengths to speak of. They are giving
up over 40 points per game. Both rushing and passing defenses are
equally putrid. Remember when I said Illinois gains 6 ypg
running? They also give up 6 ypg. The Illini can score a
lot of points, but they have to because they give up a lot of
points. The only good thing is the team will continue to
improve. This year’s team starts only a handful of seniors…the
last class left over from the previous coaching fiasco.
What to Expect:
One could say this is another chance at a trap game for NU, but
Illinois just isn’t good enough to really to make good on that
opportunity. Plus, last week’s game suggests the Illinois
team may have written off another lost season. The key for the
Cats will be to slow down the Illini running game. The biggest
concern may actually be Al Bush Jr, as the Cats have a habit of giving
up big running plays to QBs (think of the Notre Dame game).
However, assuming the Cats slow them down at bit, expect the easier
sledding on offense to put too much pressure on Illinois’s offense.
Pick: Northwestern 31, Illinois 21. Fitz is
never one to run up the score given his intense desire to protect the
football. Watch for some tense moments in the first half as the
Illini have some success running against NU, but once they fall behind
and have to throw more, it’s all over. Cats win, but don’t cover
due to conservative playcalling.
Season to Date
Straight Up: 6-5; Against the Spread: 9-2.
The Lowes Line is an
e-mailed description of NU's
football game, with an invariably fearless prediction of the outcome
how NU will fare against what the other "experts" predict. Our
friend and Brother Marcus Lowes began the broadcast mailing in 1996.
The crack Lowes Line Staff (alumni Jersey Cat,
GallopingGrapes, P.S. O'Briant, Eric Cockerill, Joel Kanvik, Charlie Simon, and
MO'Cats) have continued the Line in memory of Marcus.
the 2018 season it has returned to HailToPurple.com,
for anyone to enjoy. Thanks to the gridiron brain trust at the Lowes