2010 Northwestern Wildcats Football

 
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Northwestern Wildcats vs Illinois Fighting Illini Football Preview

 

Oh, what an adventure two football teams will have this Saturday in the Land of Lincoln. The not-so-happy fact surrounding a special neutral-site game is that the players involved might slam themselves into a state of severe physical incapacitation.

It’s no laughing matter: When the Illinois Fighting Illini try to become bowl-eligible this weekend, as they face the Northwestern Wildcats at venerable Wrigley Field in Chicago, the well-being of players, especially defensive backs and wide receivers, is very much in question. This issue has become a point of discussion all week long, and one only hopes that no lives are severely crippled when this in-state rivalry is renewed in one of America’s greatest sports stadiums. 

First, a few basic facts and figures about this matchup: Illinois lost its second game in a row last week, 38-34 to Minnesota, one week after a wild 67-65 triple-overtime loss at Michigan.  The Illini allowed the 2-9 Gophers to come back from a ten-point fourth-quarter deficit. The Wildcats, for their part, upset No. 13 Iowa 21-17 last week in Iowa City, but were dealt a crushing blow when quarterback Dan Persa went down with a ruptured Achilles tendon.

Northwestern merchandise Illinois freshman quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase has shown off his potential as a dual-threat star with three 100-yard rushing performances this season.  Lately, he has taken care of the ball remarkably well.  In his last four games, Scheelhaase has thrown 11 touchdown passes without a single interception. The Illini defense has been inconsistent lately, and it has cost them in back-to-back losses to Michigan and Minnesota.  Illinois allowed a combined 99 points to the Wolverines and Gophers.  In their two previous games, the Illini blasted Indiana and Purdue by a combined 86-23 score.

Northwestern, which started 5-0, has lost three of its last five games, but each game has been extremely competitive, including a near-miss against Michigan State, which is now 9-1. Last week against Iowa, the Wildcats scored the game-winning touchdown on a 20-yard pass from Persa to Demetrius Fields.  When Persa started to celebrate, he suffered the freak injury that will end his junior season.  Freshman Evan Watkins will take over as the Wildcats’ quarterback.

Now, back to the centerpiece of discussion surrounding this tilt: Saturday’s contest marks the first football game played at Wrigley Field since 1970, when the Chicago Bears moved to Soldier Field. It will also be the first college football game played in the charming, old ballyard since 1938, and the first Northwestern-Illinois game staged at Wrigley since 1923. ESPN College Gameday will be on hand for the game, which will acquire a very celebratory atmosphere. That’s the fun part of this contest.

 

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One can only hope that nobody will be severely injured, thereby spoiling the party on Sheffield and Waveland.

The field could have been laid out in a north-south orientation from home plate to center field at the home of the Chicago Cubs. Instead, organizers decided to align the field in an east-west manner. This has created an east end zone whose end line is just a few feet short of the right-field wall at Wrigley. The goal posts behind the east end zone are affixed to the top of the fence, with the home-run basket removed in the section between the uprights. This is clearly a situation in which fade, corner and post routes will simply be removed from the playbook. Two-thirds of the end line at the back of the east end zone is simply not playable. Only the right corner of that end zone has some room behind the end line, because of the deep right-field corner at Wrigley, in which the wall slopes several yards backward. Even then, if a receiver or a defender runs full-tilt toward the end zone on a pass play, a serious injury is being courted. The north-south alignment invited some degree of risk, but only in the four corners of the field. This alignment involves a lot more of the end zone and is therefore a source of immense concern.

These two teams want to beat the snot out of each other; let’s just hope no one gets whacked by the Wrigley wall, which is covered by thick padding, but perhaps not enough to sufficiently soften a particularly high level of impact. Football already has enough violence as it is; this party doesn’t need to be overshadowed by a major injury to a player.

By Matt Zemek
DFN Sports Senior Staff Writer

 

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