USA Today // Jerry Lai

Breaking down Illini's keys to spoiling Northwestern's bowl hopes

Illini Inquirer football analyst Micheal Young scouts the Northwestern Wildcats before Saturday's Illini season finale in Evanston

While this season hasn't gone the way Illinois hasn't wanted, the Illini (3-8, 2-6 Big Ten) have one more opportunity -- and it's a big one with the chance to reclaim the Land Of Lincoln trophy and knock the Wildcats (5-6, 4-4) out of postseason play.  

The Wildcats can present some problems for Illinois in all three phases. 

Offensively, it starts with junior running back Justin Jackson. He currently averages 102 yards per game and recently became the first player in program history to rush for 1,000 yards in three-straight seasons. He is a downhill RB with the ability to quickly burst through the second level.

In the following play, NU aligned in 11/Diamond Personnel (1RB-1TE-3WR). Iowa showed a Cover-2 look with both safeties deep.  Free safety Brandon Snyder rotated toward the box to outnumber NU upfront with seven defenders in the box versus six blockers. Jackson's vision exposed the Hawkeyes running away from Snyder, which put him in a one-on-one match up vs strong safety Miles Taylor.  Jackson used his quickness, balance and agility to make Taylor miss at the second level. From there, his speed allowed him to accelerate from and outrun the angles of the Iowa defenders.

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In the passing game, quarterback Clayton Thorsen relies heavily on senior wide receiver Austin Carr, who leads the B1G in receptions (80), receiving yards (1,170) and touchdowns (12). Carr's best asset is understanding defensive coverage on the run.  He is smooth in and out of his breaks because of his ability process the leverage of defenders at both the second and third levels. For instance, the Wildcats used 12/ACE formation with a twin alignment, having both WRs to the field on the same side. NU noticed a mismatch with Carr in the slot matched up with free safety Demetrious Cox. Carr understood that Cox was in mancCoverage sitting hard inside. Carr created distance stemming outside at the move point by getting Cox out of position which enabled him to execute the post corner route for a touch down reception.  

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Defensively, All-Big Ten linebacker Anthony Walker is the catalyst for the Wildcats. In last year's Land of Lincoln contest, Walker made a living in the Illini backfield, recording 14 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and 1.0  sack.  He is an every-down linebacker who never leaves the field. Walker can function  defending the pass as well as stop the run.  

In the red zone, Indiana is in 12/ACE formation with a power running scheme. Walker Jr. diagnosed outside zone run with left guard Wes Martin pulling to his left. Walker Jr. used good play speed to out run center Wes Rodgers' block, securing a TFL on RB Devine Redding before he could get to the perimeter.

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Godwin Igwebuike currently leads the Wildcats in tackles with 95 tackles. He displays good run support making stops at all three levels with his skill-set to blitz, make open field tackles and shows on ball production with 6 pass break ups.  

In the following play, Duke wanted to create a mismatch using 11/Diamond personnel with TE Daniel Helm flexed inside the slot Igwebuike in off man coverage. Igwebuike deceived QB Daniel Jones allowing Helm to get inside an appear open.  He used a trail technique, ball skills to under cut and intercept the ball.  

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For the Illini to take back the Land of Lincoln Trophy, they must capitalize on field position. The kick-off & punt teams need to minimize big returns as well as flip the field on both kickoff and punt return units. Offensively, the run game has to be more effective in order to create some passing opportunities.  Defensively, all members of the front seven, led by the front four, has to create some negative running plays for NU. 

This is the last chance for the Illini to play a complete game in all three phases and win a trophy game over their in-state rival.

Micheal Young is the football analyst for IlliniInquirer.com. Young was a four-year starter for Illinois football and a team captain. The St. Louis native also played for the NFL's Arizona Cardinals from 2001-04. He serves as a color analyst for several broadcast outlets and co-hosts an Illini podcast with former UI teammate Carey Davis on Huddlepass.com


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