No. 20 Northwestern looks to avoid letdown against Illinois
Illinois (4-7, 2-6 Big Ten) at No. 20 Northwestern (7-4, 7-1, No. 19 CFP), 3:30 EST (Big Ten Network).
Line: Northwestern by 18.
Series record: Illinois leads 55-51-5.
WHAT’S AT STAKE?
With six wins in seven games and a spot in the Big Ten championship for the first time, the last thing Northwestern wants is to get tripped up by a struggling in-state rival. The Wildcats have won 14 of 15 in conference play and 10 in a row against the Big Ten West after a 24-14 victory at Minnesota last week. Coach Lovie Smith’s Illini got blown out 63-0 by Iowa last week, matching the largest margin of defeat in program history.
Northwestern RB Isaiah Bowser against Illinois’ defensive line. The freshman has run for 568 yards and six touchdowns over the past five games, settling in as the go-to running back after Jeremy Larkin was forced to retire early in the season because of a spinal issue. And the Illini haven’t been stopping anyone. They rank last in the Big Ten in every major category, including total defense, scoring defense, run defense and pass defense.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Illinois: RB Ra’Von Bonner. The sophomore ran for a career-high 96 yards last week and has 177 on 31 attempts over the past two games.
Northwestern: QB Clayton Thorson. With 10,113 yards passing, the senior needs 349 yards to pass Iowa’s Chuck Long (10,461 from 1981-85) for fifth on the Big Ten’s all-time list. And he needs 468 to break the Northwestern record held by Brett Basanez (10,580 from 2002-05). Thorson also leads the Wildcats with seven rushing touchdowns this season.
FACTS & FIGURES
The Illini were outgained 400-216 yards by Iowa. … Northwestern has its best Big Ten record since 1996, when coach Pat Fitzgerald was in his final season as a player. … The Wildcats are eyeing their fourth straight win over Illinois. … Northwestern recorded a season-high four sacks last week. … Wildcats S Travis Whillock led the team in tackles for the third straight game with a career-high 15 against Minnesota.