EVANSTON, Ill. — Northwestern beat in-state foe Illinois for a sixth-straight time Saturday and now has momentum approaching its’ biggest game of the year.
The Wildcats dominated the Fighting Illini in the trenches and racked up 483 total yards, their most since the first game. Northwestern steamrolled for a season-high, 411 yards on the ground, including 149 by Evan Hall and 142 by Cam Porter. Not to mention the Wildcats’ defense held the Fighting Illini scoreless in the first and third quarter.
Coach Pat Fitzgerald was pleased with his teams’ overall performance and glad his seniors captured their last win at home. The starters got to rest the entire fourth quarter and a lot of young guys got reps. The victory wasn’t the prettiest and was played in inclement weather. However, it just shows the character of Fitzgerald’s squad and their resiliency after the loss at Michigan State.
“Credit to our players, they just settled down, settled in and played really well,” Fitzgerald said. “We played really dominant football, our two gave up some things at the end, but our ones played their fannies off.”
The Wildcats (6-1) had more than enough motivation after the Fighting Illini mocked them as ‘Little Brother’. Senior linebacker Paddy Fisher didn’t take those words lightly. He knew the defense had to come out and make a statement and that’s exactly what they accomplished.
“There was definitely some talk in the locker room and we take it personal,” Fisher said. “We kind of looked at that as a sign of disrespect and we’re not going to let anybody disrespect us.”
Quarterback Peyton Ramsey wasn’t asked to do much and he only had 12 pass attempts. The important part was he played smart with the football, threw a touchdown and had no interceptions. Fitzgerald is happy that the hat will stay in Evanston for another year, but Northwestern’s focus has quickly shifted to Ohio State.
It’s going to be the second time in three years that the two teams will play for the Big Ten Title. The 14th-ranked Wildcats aren’t backing down from the challenge though, considering they’ll be playing the No. 3 team in the nation. Fitzgerald supports the Big Ten’s decision on changing the rule to allow the Buckeyes to play in the Championship Game.
After all, the 46-year old coach has been blown away by the play of Ohio State’s quarterback Justin Fields. Fitzgerald thinks every time a Buckeye player touches the ball on offense it’s a highlight reel. The first thing that stood out to him on film after watching Ryan Day’s team was their defensive front seven. He knows it’s going to be a challenge to keep Ramsey upright and the Wildcats will likely have to play their best game of the season.
“They’re a top-four team, if I had a vote I’d vote them number two,” he said. “I think they’re a complete football team in all three phases.”
The Fighting Illini may have been the appetizer for the Wildcats, but the Buckeyes will be the entree and desert. Northwestern is in position to play spoiler of the year because a victory over Ohio State this Saturday will stir up the Playoff rankings and create a ton of controversy.