Illinois needs to go back to what worked < Illinois

The Illinois-Northwestern Wildcats duel may seem a bit meaningless at first: The Illinois are bowl-ready with seven wins already, and the Wildcats have long since lost all hope of even five wins and a possible bowl chance APR . But at least for the Illini, Bret Bielema with the HAT gives the chance to end the regular season on a high and start bowl preparation with momentum. And of course, a team with 8 wins is more likely to be selected from a higher ranked bowl than a team with 7 wins.

While the odds are good, an Illini win on Saturday also keeps Illinois hopes alive for a Big Ten West title, but that would require victories from both Nebraska over Iowa and Indiana over Purdue.

Meanwhile, on the other sidelines at Ryan Field, Northwestern is a program in freefall. After a Big Ten West title in 2020, the Cats are down 4-19 (2-15) as of the start of the 2021 season. This sets the stage for Northwestern to potentially break out of their frustrating season to earn one final win on their Senior Day. It is up to the Illini to…

Control the pace throughout the game

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Illinois has everything it takes to stop Northwestern’s offense and rack up points on its depleted defense. Northwestern has struggled at the quarterback position all year, so Devon Witherspoon and the Illini secondary should be able to easily benefit if the Cats decide to blow up. Likewise, Keith Randolph, Gabe Jacas and Johnny Newton will be ready to contain the Wildcats on site.

The Illini have the advantage in virtually every position group and they should be able to pull off a win as long as they stay focused, bring intensity and don’t let Northwest chances down. This requires Illinois to minimize turnovers and prevent big plays on the Wildcat offense.

The other way to control the game is to make sure Chase Brown, Illinois’ top playmaker, has every opportunity to rack up rushing yards and eat the clock. With that in mind, I would hope that Barry Lunney intends to…

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It almost goes without saying at this point, but Illinois has its best chance of winning on Saturday if its offense can keep the ball on the ground and in the hands of its top rusher. A focus on rush play may be the best path to victory for the Illini, but it also has broader implications.

Chase Brown has an opportunity to break Illinois’ single-season rushing record if he rushes for at least 116 yards on the ground between the matchup against Northwestern and the bowl game. Getting him the record before the bowl game would be outstanding, but additional all-purpose yards would also increase Brown’s chances of winning the Doak Walker Award.

This season may not end in 10 or 11 wins like we thought a few weeks ago, but there is still so much to play and it all depends on getting a win on Saturday. For far too long, Northwestern have been battling the Illini for improved bowl position and a shot at a West Division title in their final game of the season. It’s so nice that the tables have finally turned in Illinois’ favor.