Illinois Football: Previewing Northwestern’s Defense

After picking up their first Big Ten victory since 2011, the Illinois Fighting Illini will host arguably their biggest rival when the Northwestern Wildcats come to Champaign on Saturday.

Northwestern will come into Champaign ranked eighth in the Big Ten for total defense as they give up an average of 378.2 yards per game this season.

Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

The Wildcats are better at defending the run than the pass in 2013. They are the third best defense in the Big Ten v.s the rush giving up 127.6 rushing yards per game, but are in dead last in the conference v.s. the pass giving up 250.5 passing yards per game.

Despite giving up over 300 yards per game as a defensive unit, one thing the Wildcats do well on defense is forcing their opponents to turnover the football.

Northwestern has forced the most turnovers in the Big Ten with 29 turnovers (16 fumbles/13 interceptions) in 2013.

Junior linebacker Chi Chi Ariguzo and junior safety Ibraheim Campbell have the most interceptions on the team with four a piece while junior linebacker Collin Ellis and sophomore defensive lineman Dean Lowry have three and two interceptions respectively of their own (five other players with at least one interception).

On top of forcing turnovers, the Wildcat defensive is also very good at getting after opposing quarterbacks. In 2013, this defense ranks fifth in the conference with 28 total sacks.

The biggest “sack artist” on the team is senior defensive lineman Tyler Scott who has six total sacks this season. Northwestern also has eight other players with at least one sack this season with three of those eight have at least three sacks.

The biggest key of the game for the Illinois offense come Saturday will be taking care of the football.

Although they were able to beat Purdue, the Fighting Illini turned the ball over four times against the Boilermakers and have turned the ball over 30 times this year.

It all starts with quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase. If Scheelhaase can avoid costly interceptions, than the Illini could have a chance to win their second straight Big Ten game.

However, Scheelhaase cannot do it alone. Josh Ferguson will need to have a similar performance to the one he had last week against Purdue running the football (115 yards on 20 carries).

If Illinois can limit their turnovers and get the run game going against Northwestern, they will be in very good shape to win the game and close the 2013 season with two Big Ten wins.

Make sure to follow me on Twitter @RickyWidmer.

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Topics: Football, Illinois Fighting Illini

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