Northwestern excelled in every phase of the game Saturday as the offense consistently moved the ball up and down the field, the defense aggressively halted Illinois' running and passing attacks, and the special teams were once again productive.
Northwestern's defense, led by Chi Chi Ariguzo (11 tackles), David Nwabuisi (5 tackles, 1 int.), and Ibraheim Campbell (4 tackles, 1 int.) -- after settling down in the second quarter -- proved dominant over Illinois' struggling offense. It held Illinois to 242 yards of total offense and did not allow a point after Illinois scored early in the second quarter.
It is often said that in a rivalry game, records and stats can be disregarded, and even if one team is heavily favored, the game will be close. Saturday's game did not follow this formula, however. Illinois' inability to keep the game close did not discourage Northwestern coaches from getting creative with the playbook.
Fifth-year senior and reserve defensive tackle Bo Cisek received two carries late in the game, and back-up offensive lineman Paul Jorgenson had a 24- yard touchdown reception on a tackle eligible play.
In Champaign last year, Illinois mockingly displayed "Illinois: Chicago's Undefeated Big Ten Team" on its jumbotron as "Sweet Home Chicago," played over Memorial Stadium. It's hard for any Wildcat fan to feel any sympathy for the dismantled llini.
And while the Northwestern coaching staff will likely never admit to intentionally running up the score on Illinois, it is likely that the passion on both sides of this rivalry was further fueled by Saturday's outcome.
For Illinois, its 2-10 season came to a close Saturday in Evanston, but for the Wildcats, a fifth consecutive bowl game is in order.
Saturday's offensive explosion and defensive dominance is just what Wildcat playmakers needed heading into bowl preparation. A confident Northwestern team firing on all cylinders heading into a January 1 bowl game will be a tough team to stop.
And while we do not yet know which bowl will be lucky enough to host Northwestern. It is evident that another strong effort from all three phases will be necessary for NU to bring home its first bowl victory in 63 years.