Dec 31, 2011; San Francisco CA, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini wide receiver Ryan Lankford (12) lines up for a play against the UCLA Bruins during the first quarter at AT

Illinois Football: Northwestern Gameday Preview

Illinois vs. Northwestern

Saturday, November 24th – at Ryan Field; Evanston, Illinois

Fighting Illini: 2-9, 0-7 (6th in Big Ten – Leaders) | Wildcats: 8-3, 4-3 (3rd in Big Ten – Legends)

  • Kickoff – 11:00 a.m. (CST)
  • Television – Big Ten Network
  • Radio – Sirius/XM Radio (123/195)
  • Weather – Mostly sunny and cold, 34-28 degrees 0% precipitation (via accuweather).
  • Odds – Wildcats arelisted as 18-point favorites (via oddsshark).

Quick History

  • 106th meeting, Fighting Illini lead series (54-46-5).
  • Illinois and Northwestern have played every year since 1927 and originally played for the Sweet Sioux Tomahawk (ended in 2008).
  • The Fighting Illini and the Wildcats now play for the Land of Lincoln trophy. The Fighting Illini are 2-1 since the Land of Lincoln trophy was established.
  • Illinois is 27-26-3 in games played at Northwestern.

Oct. 1, 2011; Champaign, IL, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase (2) takes a snap from offensive linesman Graham Pocic (76) while warming up before the game against the Northwestern Wildcats at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reid Compton-US PRESSWIRE

This week, Tim Beckman talked about many things at his weekly press conference at the University of Illinois. During this press conference, he discussed what he sees from Northwestern, how big a win would be this week, and how the defense has improved.

Beckman on what he sees from Northwestern

“They’re playing extremely hard. You see a team getting better every week. We were so familiar with one another prior to me getting here at Illinois, I know what type of program is run up there. Coach Pat does a great job. He’s got a good staff. Mick McCall, his offensive coordinator, was on staff with me at Bowling Green. Dennis Springer, his running backs coach, was on staff with me at Bowling Green. They’ve done an outstanding job. You can see, the seven years that he’s been there, they’ve really established themselves.” (Source: fightingillini.com)

Beckman on how big a win would be this week

“It’s huge. You say you’re only as good as your last game. It’s a very, very important football game. It’s a rivalry football game, that’s why they usually play it last. I’ve been involved in great ones, I mean, the best of the best. They’re very important. We try to do some special things to try to give this game even more of a rivalry atmosphere, so it’s very important.” (Source: fightingillini.com)

Beckman on how the defense has improved

“Well, we’re not giving up the big chunk play. (But) we gave up three big chunk plays in this last football game and those happened to be the ones that hurt us. Again, it comes down to those plays. I think our defense has played better at leveraging the football and doing those sorts of things, but still, it comes down to making that stop when we need that stop, and we didn’t make it. So you’re only as good as the W’s that you have and that’s what this football team understands.” (Source: fightingillini.com)

Three Keys to Victory

  1. Stop the Run. Northwestern has a running back and a quarterback that know how to run the ball well. Juniors Venric Marks and Kain Colter fuel the Wildcat run game with a total of 1,915 yards and 21 rushing touchdowns on the season. Running back Venric Marks has seven games this year with at least 100-yards. His most rushing yards came against Minnesota where he ran for 182 yards.
  2. Limit the turnovers. The Fighting Illini will need to limit their turnovers on offense if they want to win this game. Last week, Northwestern forced Michigan State to turn the ball over four times. The Wildcats forced two interceptions and two fumbles. Illinois will need to take care of the ball because Northwestern will make them pay if they do not.
  3. Run the ball. If the Fighting Illini run the ball and run the ball well, they should win. In the last few meetings between these two teams, an Illini offensive player has broken an individual program record. Illinois will need to use the run to move the chains and to run the clock. Do not give the Wildcats more time to work with in this game.

Gameday Thoughts

  • Nathan Scheelhaase will need too be on his game against the Wildcats. Last season, he engineered a comeback for the ages as he help his team to four touchdown drives covering 296 yards in the game’s final 22:11. He threw for three touchdowns and ran in the game winner with 13 seconds left in the game. He is averaging 281.5 yards of total offense with five total touchdowns in two games against Northwestern.
  • The Fighting Illini will need to prepare for two quarterbacks. Last week against MSU, both Trevor Siemian and Kain Colter split time for the Wildcats. Siemian threw for 165 yards and set Northwestern up for a game-winning field goal while Colter went 13 of 20 for 81 yards and a touchdown.
  • Northwestern’s run game will be important in this game. Illinois will need to stop it or at least slow it down. The Wildcats are ranked 16th in the nation averaging 221.2 rushing yards per game.

Injury Report

The Fighting Illini could have one of their wide receivers returning for the Northwestern game. In their last game, Ryan Lankford suffered an ankle injury and is listed as questionable. He is the team’s leading receiver with 469 receiving yards on 37 receptions and five touchdowns. However, Lankford has not recorded a touchdown since week six.

On defense, Illinois could be returning one of two injured players this Saturday. Defensive back Steve Hull is listed as questionable. He has been dealing with a shoulder injury and has not played in the last three games. On the other hand, linebacker Jonathan Brown is listed as doubtful for Saturday’s game. Brown also has been dealing with a shoulder injury and has missed two straight games.

Prediction

When it comes down to rivalry games like this, the stats from the current season can be thrown out the window. Expect this to be a hard-fought football game between two Big Ten Illinois schools.

The Fighting Illini might be 0-7 in the Big Ten this season, but they have a winning record when it comes to Northwestern. Expect the Fighting Illini to come out with a ton of energy and try to take the opposing crowd out of the game from the start. Nathan Scheelhaase should have just as good of a game as he did a year ago, but it will not matter if Illinois can stop Northwestern’s run game.

Final score: Illinois 24, Northwestern 21

Make sure to follow me on Twitter @RickyWidmer.

Check out my other writings on the Oregon Ducks blog, Autzen Zoo.

Dick's Sporting Goods presents "Hell Week":

Tags: Football Illinois Fighting Illini Nathan Scheelhaase Northwestern Wildcats Ryan Lankford