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WILDCATS RUN OVER AT WRIGLEY
Posted By Ben Chiswick On Nov 22 2010 @ 5:53 pm In Northwestern | 2 Comments
The Allstate Wrigleyville Classic was designed to be a Chicagoland bowl game, and that mission certainly proved successful after Wrigleyville turned into the center of the college football world for one wild afternoon in Chicago.
Unfortunately for the Northwestern Wildcats, bowl wins have been hard to come by. That trend continued with a 48-27 loss to the Illinois Fighting Illini, even if the game will go down in the history books as no more than a regular season home loss.
It was certainly a wacky afternoon.
Following a unique rule change earlier in the week dictating that both offenses would move towards the west end zone, there was, in the end, a touchdown in front of the right field bleachers thanks to a 59-yard interception return by Wildcats safety Brian Peters.
That, along with an 80-yard touchdown sprint by freshman running back Mike Trumpy, was why Northwestern found themselves trailing just 21-14 after the first quarter despite allowing 224 rushing yards in the opening stanza. The Illini had easily surpassed 300 rushing yards by halftime, but the ‘Cats hung around and were down just 27-24 at the break.
Ultimately, the Illinois rushing attack was simply too dominant to overcome.
Mikel Leshoure was the star of the show, ripping off five different runs of 30-plus yards and scampering for more than 60 on a play twice. He finished the day with a school-record 330 rushing yards and two touchdowns as the visitors from Champaign racked up 519 yards on the ground as a team. Jason Ford added 86 yards and three touchdowns while quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase chipped in with another 97.
He only threw for 40 yards, but it hardly mattered given their dominance on the ground.
In the Wildcats’ first game without injured quarterback and offensive leader Dan Persa, who would have thought that freshman fill-in Evan Watkins would be the game’s best passer? Though shaky at times, Watkins looked better as the game went on and finished 10-for-20 with 135 passing yards and one pick. In running situations he was occasionally spelled by fellow frosh Kain Colter, a strategy fans can expect to see more of going forward.
It would be easy to look back and wonder how things would have played out differently if Persa had been under center. It does not take much imagination to envision him carving up the Illini defense. Northwestern’s inability to stop the run, however, has become something of a recurring theme. The deficiency first reared its ugly head in the 35-21 loss to Penn State two weeks ago and resurfaced – but was overcome – during last week’s 21-17 win over Iowa.
On Saturday, that shortcoming turned into a glaring weakness as the Wildcats were flat-out embarrassed at Wrigley Field.
It’s a good thing that Northwestern (7-4, 3-4) earned their bowl eligibility before Persa’s injury, because there will not be many people laying down money on the Wildcats when they travel to Madison for their regular season finale against the Wisconsin Badgers (10-1, 6-1) – and their 12th-ranked rushing offense – this Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium.
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