Northwestern took care of what they could control on Saturday with their 24-14 win over in-state rival Illinois.
Northwestern ends the season with 10 wins and a chance to play in own of the New Year’s Day six bowl games. Entering the week Northwestern was ranked 16 in ESPN’s college football playoff ranking. All they had to do to boost their resume was win, and that is exactly what they did. Now Northwestern has to wait for other games to finish and Tuesday night when the selection committee unveils their new rankings. Northwestern finished the season 10-2 overall and 6-2 in the Big Ten conference.
After the game Pat Fitzgerald was in his best mood, glowing from the celebration with his player on the field as they held the hat trophy and partied in the locker room. During the post game press conference Fitzgerald said his team’s game film will speak for itself when it comes to convincing the committee they belong on New Year’s Day. While he was talking about the fate of the Wildcat’s post season he eluded to what he thought was unfair in the ranking. The fact Northwestern beat Stanford 16-6 in the first week of the season, yet Stanford is ranked seven spots ahead of Northwestern.
While he did not mention Stanford by name he referenced the team by referencing them as the team they beat who is in the college playoff – so that eliminates Michigan and Iowa, leaving only Stanford as the only other team Northwestern faced in the playoff. Fitzgerald also said he was tired of hearing that it was the first game of the season, which could only be Stanford.
Fitzgerald went on to passionately say he was sick and tired of hearing about how it was a nine a.m. game. Northwestern and Stanford played at 11, but the game was in Evanston so it was a nine a.m. game for a team from California.
Northwestern won their 10th game in classic Northwestern fashion. The defense set the tone and stopped any and all momentum Illinois created. After scoring the first points of the game the defense went into lock down mode. Creating third and longs and not allowing Illinois’ Wes Hunt to get any clean looks down the field.
Justin Jackson rushed the ball a career high 37 times and gained 172 yards with one touchdown, his third in three games. Clayton Thorson looked the most comfortable on the field all year. With such a hurt offensive line there was little to no protection fro the red-shirt freshman. Even with pressure all game Thorson stood tall in the pocket and only left when the pressure was too much. When on the run Thorson did not force a play. Earlier in the year Thorson would flush the pocket and try to make a play, which resulted in turnovers at times. Saturday Thorson extended the play and when the defense was trying to bait him in running Thorson just threw the ball away.
With the regular season over Northwestern now has plenty of time to rest and heal, considering Nick VanHoose left the game in the first half with a head injury and Christian Jones left with a lower-body injury and was seen in a walking boot after the game.
Northwestern’s year round mentality of going 1-0 each week may help them prepare for whomever they get since there will be no next week.