It's been a long two weeks, but finally we're only a day away from college football. It's a new year (for us Jews) which means Northwestern has obviously turned over a new leaf and we can forget about the loss to Army. (This is how the Jewish New Year works. Don't ask about it.)
After the jump, me, Loretta and Herman got stuff to say bout them footballs!
Heart and mind are in conflict on this one. My heart wants to believe that the return of Persa will get the offense clicking again, which in turn will give a boost to our defense, and allow us to steal an upset. But Illinois scares me. Scheelhaase (had to look up that spelling) ate us alive last year, as did the entire Illini ground game. I have a sinking feeling that our defense will be torn to shreds, and our offense won't be up to the task of keeping up blow by blow. True, we did contain what we thought was a solid running attack by Boston College, but the Army game exposed huge weaknesses in our ability to stop the run. Whether that was because of a one-week schematic flaw against a unique triple-option offense, or because of technical and physical breakdowns, I'm not sure, but the loss doesn't leave me with a good feeling going into this match-up. Also, do we have a kicker or not? I feared before the season began that our kicking game could
very well factor into a couple of close games. I think Persa will look good early, but eventually the Illini's rushing game wears down our defense and we go down by a couple of touchdowns. Persa being Persa, he leads us on a late comeback, but we come up a little short.
Score Illinois 27, NU 21
The only reason to be optimistic here is the return of Dan Persa. In every other facet of the game, Illinois has the edge. Their running game figures to roll over Northwestern's porous run defense, and if NU stacks the line of scrimmage, Nathan Scheelhaase is good enough to make plays through the air. He's a lot better than Chase Rettig at any rate. And the Illini front 4 should have no trouble stopping the run. It's all up to Persa, who hasn't taken a snap in a real game in 11 months. Illinois showed some weakness against the pass last week, but it's an awful lot to ask for Persa to carry them to victory. It would be absurd to expect Persa to return to form; we can only hope.
Yet despite all this, I'm still picking Northwestern to win. It defies all logic, but so have many of the upsets Pat Fitzgerald has pulled off at Northwestern. Maybe he really is a wizard, who knows. Regardless, I'm not going to fight it anymore. This is exactly the type of game Fitz has no business winning, but does anyway.
Northwestern 28, Illinois 27
I am very, very, very, very excited re: Persa. I honestly think Northwestern is a whole different team now with him. I'm glad that NU is 2-1 not having had him, although the one loss coming to Army and not BC surprises me in retrospect. However, him being back doesn't mean everything is great. He hasn't played in a long time (although he genuinely looks 100% in practice). But most importantly, Illinois is a good team. They run the ball in droves and are going to murder Northwestern on the ground. I think Persa will be able to do lots of work in the air and make us remember good things. I don't think it's going to be enough for NU to beat a ranked team on the road. That's a tall order and the tackling display against Army just didn't do anything to make me confident enough in NU's ability to stop another running-based team.
Illinois, 31, NU, 24