Illinois running back Mikel Leshoure (#5) runs over the Northwestern defense en route to 330 rushing during Saturday's 48-27 Illini victory.

Dissecting Illinois (48) – Northwestern (27): Game Balls, Catcalls & Downfalls


Pack your bags, Illini fans.

After a dominant victory against a talented Northwestern team, Illinois is headed to a bowl game, which may not seem like a big deal but kind of is when considering that the Illini have been to just two bowls in the last 10 years.

Where Illinois will play its bowl game will be determined in the next two weeks.

The win also takes head coach Ron Zook off the hot seat.

This Is Our State

After defeating the Wildcats on Saturday, Illinois can lay claim that it is the best team in the state, at least during the 2010 season.

Illinois defeated both Southern Illinois and Northern Illinois earlier this season to remain undefeated against public instate schools.

With the win against Northwestern to reclaim the Land of Lincoln trophy, Illinois has proven that it is the state’s team in 2010.

Final Score: Illinois 48, Northwestern 27

A full recap of the game can be found on Writing Illini’s Gameday Binoculars.

Game Balls

Nick Houska’s Game Ball

  • Mikel Leshoure

No one should be surprised by this pick.

Leshoure’s 330 yards were a single game record for Illinois, and the most yards that any player in the nation has racked up on the ground in more than 2 years.

Leshoure averaged 10 yards per carry against the Wildcats and had 2 runs of more than 60 yards.

And his 330 rushing yards were 12 more than the entire Northwestern offense had in the game.

For his record-setting performance, Leshoure was awarded Big Ten offensive player of the week honors for the second time in the last three weeks.

Leshoure has already run for the second best single-season rushing yards in Illinois history. He has two more games to rack up 311 yards and pass Rashard Mendenhall for first.

Other Players Worth Mentioning

  • Jason Ford

Ford may have had has his rushing yards (86) hurt by Leshoure’s dominance, but Leshoure certainly helped Ford’s touchdown stats.

Ford rushed for a career-high three touchdowns against the Wildcats, two of which were set up by big runs from Leshoure.

  • Martez Wilson

Wilson had another excellent game against the Wildcats.

The linebacker forced a fumble on the first Northwestern drive that Illinois recovered and converted into a touchdown, and had a team-high two sacks and three tackles for a loss.

  • Nate Bussey

Bussey tied for a team-high six tackles and recovered the fumble forced by Wilson.

Bussey constantly hurried Northwestern quarterback Evan Watkins into rushed passes.

  • Ian Thomas

Not content to let Wilson get all of the attention at the linebacker position, Thomas had 5 tackles, including one for a loss, and a 15-yard interception.

Catcalls

Nick Houska

  • Illinois Pass Game

First thing’s first, when your team is able to rush for 519 yards in a single game, you do not really need a stellar passing game.

That being said, Illinois’ passing attack at Wrigley was atrocious.

Redshirt freshman quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase had his worst passing game since the Missouri loss, completing only 6 of 13 passes for a meager 40 yards.

Scheelhaase threw one touchdown and one interception on Saturday.

Wide receiver Eddie McGee did attempt one disastrous pass (and wishes he didn’t), as it was intercepted and returned for a touchdown.

McGee’s passing stats for the season are 6-13 passing for 91 yards with no touchdowns and 4 interceptions.

All things considered, Illinois has actually had a very productive passing game this season.

With that said, the rushing game will not always be able to pick up the slack, and Illinois needs to remain a dual-threat team.

Potential Downfalls

Nick Houska

  • Illinois Special Teams

This is a bit of nitpicking after what was overall a very solid performance, but the Illinois special teams did not do its best job of covering kick returns last weekend.

A week after a 90 yard return set up Minnesota for its comeback win in Champaign, the Illini special teams allowed its lone punt return to go for 58 yards and the two top Wildcat returners to average more than 25 yards per return.

The Illini should spend the bye week ensuring their kick coverage is tighter.

Writing Illini Projection Record: 8-3 (73%)

Check back later in the week for a look at Illinois’ final regular season opponent, the Fresno State Bulldogs.

Until then.

Tags: Eddie McGee Ian Thomas Illinois Illinois Football Martez Wilson Mikel Leshoure Nate Bussey Nathan Scheelhaase Northwestern Northwestern Football Northwestern Wildcats Ron Zook Ron Zook Nathan Scheelhaase University Of Illinois Zooker