Illini End Season With Loss to Northwestern

Ron Zook finished his first football season as Illinois' head coach in a manner he never thought he would, a nine game losing streak including a winless run through the Big Ten Conference. The season ended with a 38-21 loss at the hands of the Northwestern Wildcats on Senior Day in Champaign, IL. For the first time in the Big Ten season, the Illini offense came alive, but it was not enough to overcome the elements and the Wildcats on Saturday afternoon.

Senior Day in Champaign was not what this group of seniors expected when they arrived in Champaig, but the few seniors left playing on the Illini's roster wanted to end their Illini football career on a high note. Unfortunately, a combination of the elements and the Northwestern defense did not allow that to happen as the Illini fell for their ninth-straight loss, including eight Big Ten Conference games, 38-21. The wind made things difficult for both offenses when they were going against it, in fact the Illini scored all 21 of their points with the wind (in the second quarter) while the Wildcats scored 14 of their 38 with the wind.

The difference in Saturday's game was the Illini defense's inability to slow down the Northwestern offense (forcing only one punt in the whole contest). For the first time in three games, the Illini offense scored a touchdown (three of them), but it was not enough to keep the Illini in the game. An untimely interception after a 55 yard drive after Northwestern scored a touchdown to take a 31-21 lead effectively ended the game for the Illini.

For the first time all season, Illini junior running back Pierre Thomas was allowed to carry the ball the majority of the time, and he produced. Thomas rushed for 103 yards on 18 carries for an average of 5.7 yards-per-carry. Thomas' touchdown run in the second quarter ended the Illini's string of two straight games without a touchdown.

Also playing well for the Illini was senior wide receiver Kendrick Jones who had not been heard from in a long time. He ended his career in Champaign with a 3 reception, 95 yard game. Illinois freshman wide receiver Derrick McPhearson scored the first touchdown of his college career when his 27-yard reception tied the game for the Illini at 21 late in the first half.

In his post game comments, Ron Zook told the fans and the media that he was "not going through this again." Ron Zook was hired in Champaign to rebuild a football program that I don't think anyone truly knew how far it had fallen, but even he did not expect a season that ended with 9-straight losses. To make sure a season like this will not happen again in Champaign, Zook will be hitting the recruiting trail hard to try and gain more speed, talent, and athleticism for the Illini football program before next season.


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