Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Illinois Fighting Illini Football: Northwestern Gameday Preview

Illinois vs. Northwestern

Saturday, November 30th – at Memorial Stadium; Champaign, Illinois

  • Kickoff - 2:30 p.m. (CST)
  • Television – BTN
  • Radio – Fighting Illini Radio Network | Sirius/XM Radio (113/194)
  • Weather – Mostly sunny, 44 degrees, 0% precipitation (via accuweather.com).
  • Odds – Northwestern is listed as 4-point favorites.

Quick Facts

  • 107th meeting, Illinois leads series (54-47-5).
  • Illinois lost to Northwestern in their last game in Evanston, 50-14.
  • The Wildcats enter today’s game without a win in Big Ten play. A loss today would put them at their worst season under head coach Pat Fitzgerald.
  • Illinois will honor fifteen seniors before and during this game as a part of the team’s Senior Day celebrations.

Here are some quotes from head coach Tim Beckman’s press conference this week:

On what the senior class has meant to this program

“After the Northwestern game last year, they got in the weight room with a purpose and that purpose was to bring this program back. This senior group knows that they’ve been a big part of getting this this football program going back in the right direction.”

On what Nathan Scheelhaase means to the team and community

“Everybody in this community and around this university knows who Nathan Scheelhaase is, not just how he plays the game of football, not just how he throws the football, how he runs the football, but how he leads and how much the University of Illinois means to Nathan. I think that anyone that knows or has been around him realizes that we’re going to miss not just a great player, but a great person, too. In honor of him, we need to perform as we took all the juniors, sophomores, and freshmen out and said it’s our time to perform for these seniors. And they did that on the road this last week and now we have the opportunity to do it at home this week on Senior Day.”

On Northwestern’s season

“Wow, I think Fitzy (Pat Fitzgerald) does a great job. I have the utmost respect for Northwestern and always have. Ironically, that’s where I spent most of my time offensively and defensively (when I was) at Toledo. We had a Northwestern grad on staff, so we did spend a lot of time with that football team. Of course now, being the head football coach at Illinois, we don’t get as much time because it’s our rival, but I have respect for them. It’s been a tough football season for them: two overtime games for them and a hail mary. They’ve been in every football game and maybe a play here or there that they’d like to have back, injuries that we had last year, but they continue to fight. Fitzy has them fighting and you know that’s exactly what you’re going to get when you come here Saturday from the Wildcats.”

On how Northwestern’s offense has changed since the injuries

“Knowing what they’ve done on offense, being involved with their offensive coordinator at Bowling Green, I feel they’ve done about the same; maybe not so much quarterback run of course, but basically the passing game has been the same. And the running game is still getting your zone concept, not getting as much options, quarterback powers or quarterback counters. They started out against Michigan State doing that, but then he (Kain Colter) got hurt again.”

On the importance of the game on Saturday

“It’s about moving forward. Nothing to brag about, but we’ve doubled our wins and, of course, I’d like to say we tripled or quadrupled our wins, but we didn’t. This program has gotten better and we’ve made tremendous strides in the things that we do. Of course, going into winter workouts with a win is always important.”

Gameday Thoughts

  • The biggest key to the game today for the Illini on defense will be whether or not the defense can limit or stop the Northwestern running attack. If every other team in the Big Ten has proven anything, it’s that you run the ball if you want to beat the Illini defense. Lucky for Illinois that usual Northwestern starter Venric Mark will not play in this game due to a season-ending injury. In his place, the Wildcats will use Treyvon Green. Green ran for over 100 yards against Nebraska, but has only run for 55 yards in the teams past two games.
  • For the Illini offense, the main key of the game will be avoiding costly turnovers. Even though they are 0-7 in the Big Ten this season, the Northwestern defense can still cause their share of turnovers and have caused the most turnovers in the Big Ten (29 total). During the offseason, we preached on how good Bill Cubit’s system was at limiting turnovers and that will need to be the case today. If it is not, Illinois could find themselves on the losing end of the game.
  • Today’s game will be for the coveted Land of Lincoln Trophy. Since the trophy’s arrival in 2009, both the Illini and the Wildcats have split the rivalry’s series (2-2). Illinois might have lost the trophy last year, but they and the Cats are two complete different teams in 2013. This could be the year the Illini take the lead in the series unless Northwestern’s (usually) back-up quarterback and running back can get things going today.

Injury Report

Mandatory Credit: Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

Mandatory Credit: Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

Besides the “out for the season” injuries of Ryan Lankford, Henry Dickinson, and Tony Durkin, the only Illini that could miss the team’s last game of 2013 is defensive lineman Vontrell Williams. Williams was listed with a foot injury following the win over Purdue and is questionable to play today against Northwestern.

This isn’t the first time a foot injury has decided whether or not Williams would play. Before the game against Penn State, the same foot injury made him a game time decision before the Illini played the Nittany Lions.

Prediction

Although they are no longer searching for this first conference win under Tim Beckman, today’s game is arguably the most important for the Fighting Illini in 2013. Their is no rival I want to see the Illini beat more than Northwestern and this year Illini fans could see that become a reality.

Final Score: Illinois 27, Northwestern 24

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Tags: Football Gameday Illinois Fighting Illini Preview