The 8-3 Northwestern Wildcats have to feel good about being 2+ score favorites against any conference opponent on the road. It helps that the resurrected program is on a 6-game winning streak, and clobbered Minnesota 39-0 last weekend.
In fact, why are the Illinois Fighting Illini even expected to hang around against the ‘Cats on Saturday? Illinois is sitting at 2-9 after a 2-0 start, completely dead in the water. Their much-hyped QB Jeff George Jr. turned out to be a nepotistic bust of a recruit. The leading rusher has less than 400 yards on the season, and Ohio State scored 8 touchdowns in a thrashing of the Illini last weekend.
Perhaps it’s the Illinois defense, which hasn’t played all that badly. The ‘D held 5th-ranked Wisconsin to around 300 yards of total offense in a 24-10 October loss.
But Clayton Thorsen and the Wildcat offense looked as efficient as a Buick factory against the Gophers.
Who: Northwestern Wildcats at Illinois Fighting Illini
When: Saturday, November 25th, 4 PM EST
Where: Memorial Stadium, Champaign, IL
Lines: NW (-16.5) at IL (+16.5) / O/U Total (46)
The fact that the total points are set below (50) means that odds-makers expect Illinois to play OK on defense and completely flunk on offense against the Wildcats. If Northwestern can break through for early touchdowns, it might be a very different story.
No pass-first team has bothered the Wildcat defense much. Duke’s Daniel Jones had a big day in the ‘Cats worst loss of the season (41-17) in Week 2. But Thorsen had an awful day against the ACC foe, throwing 2 interceptions and ruining any chance to control the ball. He’s progressed since then, and he’ll get plenty of chances to control things on Saturday. Don’t expect more than a handful of 1st downs for Illinois in the 1st half.
Could anything by an inspired performance by Illinois trip-up the Wildcats? Not if the visitors’ offense continues its upward trend. Season stats are mediocre, but the passing game exploded against MSU a few weeks ago and gave Northwestern renewed confidence in a dynamic playbook.
I’m liking Northwestern against the spread, but this is also one of those games in which a blow-out scenario puts value on the over. If the ‘Cats play to their potential the Illini won’t stop them, and garbage-time points by both sides will knock the final score well over 50 points total.