Illinois football was two yards away from tying the game against Northwestern.
That is all that potentially kept the Illini out of a bowl game. We just needed to convert on a two-point conversion. The season was on the line, and Illinois fell just short of getting to overtime against the Wildcats.
It was a crazy game that didn’t end in our favor. Northwestern was able to do whatever they wanted through the air, and this led to a 45-43 win for the Wildcats. As a result, Illinois falls one game short of a bowl in 2023.
Here are five observations from the Illinois football loss to Northwestern
1. Illinois secondary didn’t show up
It was the biggest game of the season. If Illinois pulls out a victory, we go to a bowl game for the second straight year. I expected all hands on deck against Northwestern.
That didn’t end up being the case, though. The Illini secondary didn’t show up to this game, and the Wildcats took advantage.
Northwestern quarterback Ben Bryant threw for 234 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions. That might not look like a great stat line, but Bryant’s two interceptions were his fault. It is not like the Illinois defensive back made a great play.
The first interception was a massive overthrow by Bryant that ended up in the hands of Miles Scott, and the second pick was forced by Jer’Zhan Newton putting pressure on Bryant. The secondary just happened to be the beneficiary.
For the season, Illinois is near sub-60 in all pass defense statistics. You can’t be a bowl team if you can’t prevent the opposing team from passing all over the field.
Heading into the offseason, I expect a big-time reboot in the Illinois secondary. We don’t have the talent in this department to compete at the highest level. I think Zachary Tobe, as a true freshman, had a good season. Honestly, the rest of the secondary is replaceable. Let’s see what this coaching staff does in the coming months.