FINAL: Northwestern 24, Illinois 14
Northwestern 24, Illinois 14; 4:10 left 4Q
Illinois has the ball at the Northwestern four-yard line and can't score. The epitome of the season. On 4th and 1, Christian DiLauro jumped for a false start and Taylor Zalewski missed the chip shot field goal. This one's about over.
Northwestern 24, Illinois 14; 9:49 left 4Q
Illinois crossed midfield and they don't score again, this time due to a Wes Lunt interception. This offense has been atrocious outside of the Purdue game.
Northwestern 24, Illinois 14; 11:27 left 4Q
Northwestern answers with a big field goal following a 10-play, 46-yard drive -- with most success coming on the ground. Northwestern running back Justin Jackson has 135 yards on 27 carries.
Northwestern 21, Illinois 14; 0:45 left 3Q
Life! Mason Monheim's pick six (58 yards) was the Illini's best offense of the game. Illinois is down just one touchdown with a quarter remaining.
The offense has been dead but the sideline finally has life.
Northwestern 21, Illinois 7; 13:02 left 3Q
Another drive killed by another Geronimo Allison drop. Just killing the Illini offense.
HALF: Northwestern 21, Illinois 7
Well, that wasn't a good start of the no-longer-interim Bill Cubit era. Drops are killing the Illini offense. Play-action and inability to cover in man is killing the Illini defense.
Total offense: ILL 140, NW 204
Yards per play: ILL 3.41, NW 5.10
Rushing yards: ILL 63, NW 71
First downs: ILL 9, NW 10
Third-down converstions: ILL 4-for-10, NW 4-for-9
Time of possession: ILL14:26, NW 15:34
Penalties: ILL 3-35, 0-0
Wes Lunt, ILL: 10-for-24, 77 yards, 1 rushing TD
Ke'Shawn Vaughn, ILL: six carries, 35 yards
Josh Ferguson: nine carries, 36 yards
Clayton Thorson, NW: 8-for-14, 133 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT
Justin Jackson, NW: 14 carries, 59 yards, 1 TD
Northwetern 21, Illinois 7; 5:56 left 2Q
Another drive into opponent territory, another drive with no points. Drops remain a killer for Illinois, and Geronimo Allison has been a main culprit in killing two drives. This drive ended with a Taylor Zalewski missed field goal from 48 yards. Illinois is averaging 3.72 yards per play and is 2-for-7 on third downs.
Northwestern 21, Illinois 7; 11:41 left 2Q
Coming into the game, Northwestern ranked 119th in the country in passing offense and averaged 20.4 points per game. In the game's first 19 minutes, Northwestern has 128 yards passing and 21 points. What's going on with Tim Banks' defense? For one, penalties don't help. Second, the lack of speed in the back seven is hurting. Illinois isgetting beat in one-on-one battles.
Northwestern 14, Illinois 7; 1:21 left 1Q
Illinois just made a mistake that has kept it out of bowls in recent years. Caleb Day was called for a personal foul for leaping over the punt shield, giving Northwestern an automatic first down. So instead of Illinois taking over possession, Northwestern maintained possession and marched down the field for a touchdown, a 3-yard run for Warren Long. Illinois also had two dropped passes on its last drive. Can't make those mistakes against a good team.
Illinois 7, Northwestern 7; 6:35 left 1Q
Rough series for Illini safety Taylor Barton, who was beat 48 yards on a play-action pass to Carr and then was beat on the 19-yard touchdown pass to Dan Vitale. Safety play is a concern for next season after Clayton Fejedelem leaves. For now, Illinois making Northwestern's bad passing attack look dangerous.
Illinois 7, Northwestern 0; 8:59 left 1Q
Ke'Shawn Vaughn made his presence immediately known. His return allows the Illini to use its best personnel packages (Vaughn and Josh Ferguson). He also gives the Illini atough runner in between the tackles. He carried three times for 20 yards, including a 16-yard run to get Illinois to the one. Wes Lunt -- yes, Illinois finally ran a QB sneak with its 6-foot-5, 225-pound quarterback -- ran it in for the touchdown.
It was all set up by a 3-and-out from the defense and a bad punt by Northwestern.
Illinois interim athletic director Paul Kowalczyk explained the university's decision to keep Bill Cubit on a two-year deal. He'll take a beating for some comments. But he's just the messenger. This goes above him.
Weather: cloudy, temperature 36 degrees (windchill 30), wind 11 mph with gusts of 23 mph.
Illinois won the toss. They defer. Northwestern will receive to start the game.
30 minutes to kickoff
As I wrote in my preview, Northwestern is a good team with a great defense. but the offense is the worst in the Big Ten. That'll provide opportunities for Illinois. Though the Illini defense can't let star running back Justin Jackson run over them like Shannon Brooks did last week in Minnesota.
Illini Inquirer football analyst Micheal Young had a great breakdown of the mistakes that cost Illinois at Minnesota and broke down Northwestern.
Freshman running back Ke'Shawn Vaughn is in uniform and will play for the Illini after missing the last two weeks with a concussion. That's a big addition because it allows Cubit to get one of his better personnel packages on the field (Vaughn and Josh Ferguson both on the field) and gives Ferguson some breathers.
Also in uniform is center Joe Spencer. He is at the front of the stretching line, which usually means he's starting, and he's repping with the first group in warmups. He suffered a leg injury last week at Minnesota. If he can't play, redshirt freshman Nick Allegretti will play. The Illini have had the same starting offensive line in all 11 games so far this season.
Slow-arriving crowd. Not expecting a big one.
1 hour to kickoff
Oh, yeah, there is a game. I expect the Illini to play a little more loose following the news that Cubit will be here next season.
The Illini are wearing blue jerseys, blue pants and orange helmets. Northwestern is wearing all white with purple N's on their helmets.
This is the first of three games in the Windy City Series. The Illini will use a home game to host the Wildcats three of the next five seasons (2015, 2017 and 2019). It was part of former AD Mike Thomas' efforts to up their marketing and exposure in Chicago. A lot of fans don't like it. I don't mind the effort given that these games occur during Thanksgiving break when most students stay home. The Illini have struggled to draw fans during this weekend. Illinois high school coaches weren't a fan either because the state championships moved to DeKalb in odd-numbered years due to the Big Ten now having games on Thanksgiving weekend.
There is a cool atmosphere outside the stadium though with a mix of Illinois fans and Northwestern fans tailgating. If Illinois were winning at a higher level, this game/venue probably would be more embraced.
90 minutes to kickoff
I just talked to Bill Cubit on the field. He told me he met with interim AD Paul Kowalczyk just after team walkthrough, about at 10:45 a.m. to discuss the deal. He said the meeting lasted just a few minutes.
Cubit had team faculty rep Matt Wheeler announced the news to the team, which gave Cubit a standing ovation.
The two-year agreement isn't ideal for Cubit and his staff. Cubit said he took the deal in part for the players, who have experienced unprecedented turnover. Cubit likely would've had other offers to be an offensive coordinator or maybe a head coach, but not a Big Ten offer. And he genuinely loves it at Illinois. Plus, maybe he wins next year and convinces the next AD to give him a long-term deal. The odds are against him, but they were against him this year too.
As for recruiting, Illinois will still land commitments from some solid players. After all, it's landed four commitments and lost no commitments since Cubit took over. But can it land the recruits it needs to take the next step as a program? That's the challenge for Cubit's staff.
2 hours to kickoff
Sorry, been working on the breaking news that Illinois and Bill Cubit have agreed to a two-year contract extension.
For the short term, this move makes some sense. Illinois doesn't have an athletic director. Cubit did a good job as an interim, stabilizing the program in tumultuous times. He represented the university well and will not embarrass the program.This will allow Illinois to be patient in its search for an athletic director, the most important hire the program must make. Would the Illini have been able to land a better coach with an interim AD? Many would've liked to have seen them try but it wasn't certain. And the short-term deal keeps this deal cheap, which means Cubit's buyout wouldn't be big. I'm hearing most of Cubit's first-year is guaranteed while there is a smaller buyout for the second year but that figure is not yet known.
For the long term, this makes little sense. Illinois will continue to struggle to recruit. Instability has been a huge reason Illinois has struggled to land as many future pros as it needs. The negative recruiting will only ratchet up with Cubit on a two-year deal, that some will say is just a disguise for a one-year deal. Opposing coaches can sell that they may never play for Cubit. Now, Illinois will still be able to recruit. It's a Big Ten program. But it will still be recruiting mostly players with MAC and AAC offers. The 2017 roster already looks weak by Big Ten standards, especially up front. This deal may guarantee that the 2018 and 2019 rosters are weak too. It's up to Cubit and his staff to overcome that. It also will be interesting to see attendance at next season's home games. A big segment of Illini fans are turned off by this, even if they respect Cubit.
But that's the bed Illinois has made by firing its athletic director three weeks before a coaching decision needed to be made. It punted the coaching decision for at least another year. Hopefully it didn't punt the next few seasons of Illinois football as well.
The good news? This team doesn't have to worry about fighting for its coaches' jobs today.
3 hours to kickoff
Jeremy Werner, Illini Inquirer publisher, here in the Soldier Field press box as we get set to see Illinois football (5-6, 2-5 BIg Ten) take on Northwestern (9-2, 5-2). Will it be their last game of the season? Will it be Bill Cubit's last game as head coach of Illinois? Well, we know it'll be his last as interim, at least. But we'll get to all of that in a bit.
Huge day of Illini athletics as this game kicks off at 2:30 p.m. on ESPNU and the Illini basketball team takes on No. 4 Iowa State in the Emerald Coast Classic at 6 p.m. (CBS Sports Network). Nice win for John Groce's team, which was as close to full strength as we've seen, last night against UAB. I wrote about it in the Rapid Recap. The craziest stat? Illinois led for 33:02 of 40 minutes against UAB. It had led for just 20:20 of its first 200 minutes (five games) of the season. For premium members, Derek Piper broke down the game in his Piper's Points.
It is Senior Day here at Soldier Field and 22 Illini seniors will be playing their final regular-season game as Illini today. With a win, they can prolong their college careers by a game (and a month). Here are a few notes on each.
- Geronimo Allison: The junior college transfer has 101 career catches in two seasons, including a team-leading 60 catches for 840 yards this season.
- V'Angelo Bentley: The Glenville, Ohio, native has 31 career starts at cornerback, is the Illini's all-time career kick return yardage leader (1,792 yards) and is 13th among active career leaders in punt return average (11.1 yards per return). He is the only player in Illinois history to record a kickoff return, punt return, interception return and fumble return for touchdown in his career
- Chris Boles: The fifth-year senior was a heck of a story this season. He entered the year having played just three games -- all last season -- on the field goal unit. He was a serviceable starting left guard this season, starting the first 11 games of the season.
- Tim Clary: The senior earned a scholarship this season and, when healthy -- he suffered a hand injury, limiting him to six games. He was the team's best lead blocker and an important part of the team's short-yardage and goal-line package.
- Clayton Fejedelem: The former walk-on has put together a potential All-Big Ten season, leading the Big Ten in tackles (124) -- the most for an Illini since Brit Miller in 2008 -- good for sixth in the FBS. He also has two interceptions and a forced fumble. The former St. Xavier safety (NAIA) has earned the attention of NFL scouts.
- Josh Ferguson: The running back will finish his career all over the Illinois record book. Today, he needs just 12 rushing yards leap Juice Williams and Mikel LeShoure for sixth on the all-time rushing list. He is seventh in career touchdowns, third in career all-purpose yardage, fourth in career receptions and first in career receiving yards for a running back. He is one of the more dynamic backs in Illinois history and will have the chance to play in the NFL, which likes that skill set.
- Eric Finney: The JUCO transfer -- one of the more underrated ones this staff has had -- has eight career starts and is fourth on the team this season with 6.5 tackles for loss.
- Pat Flavin: The senior tackle made just three career starts and never developed into the consistent starter most envisioned as a recruit, but he found a role as an effective sixth offensive lineman in short-yardage packages late in the season.
- Joe Fotu: The JUCO transfer has 12 career tackles in two seasons at Illinois.
- Ted Karras: Continuing a family tradition of playing in the Big Ten, Karras has 42 career starts, second on the team behind only Mason Monheim. He is the Illini's most consistent and nastiest offensive lineman. A team captain and leader, Karras plans to become a football coach -- after a potential NFL career.
- Davontay Kwaaning: The former walk-on grew up in crime-ridden Englewood -- and saw several friends die too young -- but already has a bachelor's degree from the University of Illinois and was an Academic All-Big Ten honoree. Heck of a story.
- Nelson Lugo: The Franklin Park native was a walk-on and will graduate.
- Mason Monheim: The seventh-leading tackler in Illinois history (384) will make his 47th consecutive start at Illinois today. He is third among active FBS players in career tackles. He plans to follow in his father's footsteps and become a dentist, having already applied to dental schools.
- Kenny Nelson: The 6-foot-6 defensive end earned his bachelor's degree in marketing last December and has 32 career tackles (3.5 TFLs).
- Jim Nudera: The Elmhurst native played a lot on special teams and earned some reps at H-Back and tight end this season due to injuries.
- Chris O'Connor: The converted defensive lineman was the team's sixth offensive lineman, earning playing time in 10 of 11 games.
- Leslie Poole: The Schaumburg native made his on-field debut this season.
- Eaton Spence: The Florida native has made 38 career starts at cornerback. He has three interceptions this season after picking off no passes his first three seasons.
- Cameron Tucker: The walk-on has 36 rushing yards on seven carries this season.
- Jihad Ward: The JUCO transfer has developed into one of the better defensive lineman in the Big Ten. He has started every game of his Illini career (24) and has 100 career tackles and 12.5 TFLs. Buzz is that he could be drafted as high as the second- or third-round.
- Sean White: The Casey native made his on-field debut this season.
- Taylor Zalewski: The Orland Park native is eighth in career field goals at Illinois (35 for 53) and seventh in points scored (200)