2010 Northwestern Wildcats Football

 
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Northwestern Wildcats vs Illinois Fighting Illini Football Recap

Illinois 48, Northwestern 27

 

Saturday's special sporting event - the one that generated a constant stream of internet-based humor just 30 hours before kickoff - ultimately ended without too much incident, to the great relief of event organizers. Fortunately for the Illinois Fighting Illini, a much-hyped occasion also ended with a victory over the Northwestern Wildcats.

The best part of the Wrigleyville Classic, a unique college football confrontation that commanded nationwide attention, is that no student-athlete got severely injured or killed at Wrigley Field in the heart of Chicago. Strange rules and a lack of fade routes thrown into dangerous corners preserved the well-being of wide receivers and cornerbacks. A lack of crash-bang action near the south sideline, which was perilously close to the field of play, also removed the wrong kind of drama from a contest in which only one end zone was used for all intents and purposes.

Northwestern merchandiseYes, the strange but widely publicized aspect of this otherwise unremarkable rivalry game was the fact that Wrigley's east end zone went silent for 99 percent of the proceedings. The east end zone was rendered out of play because its end line did not meet NCAA regulations. The back of the end zone was fewer than six feet away from the right-field brick wall at the Chicago Cubs' home ballpark, and that reality stood in violation of NCAA rules. Yes, the Big Ten and the participating schools had two years to finalize plans for the field configuration at this event, but for some reason, the lack of space behind the east end zone was never raised as a red flag until 30 hours before kickoff, early on Friday morning. When the "one-way" rule was provisionally inserted for this game alone, Twitter exploded with mentions of Wrigley Field pickup football rules. Commentators wondered if the parents of Northwestern players would call the Wildcats home for dinner in the third quarter. Other witty voices said that injured Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa could be all-time quarterback with a Nerf football. Still other pundits wondered if two-hand touch or five-Mississippi rushes applied to this wacky and distinctive affair. Yes, the embarrassing yet necessary about-face on the ground rules and the field's configuration unleashed a lot of comedic nuggets on the interwebs. Yet, when Illinois and Northwestern got down to the business of playing for local bragging rights, the football took precedence, and the sideshow happily drifted into the background.

It's worth noting that while the east end zone was not able to be penetrated by offensive players on any single possession, that lonely area of Wrigley Field's gridiron did witness one touchdown in this game, but only because the Northwestern defense managed to run an interception of an Illinois pass to the end zone. Of the 75 points scored on Saturday afternoon in the Windy City, 69 were tallied at the west end zone near the Cubs' dugout. With all offensive series proceeding in only one direction, the fans who shoehorned themselves into a grand old baseball stadium were often left wondering what was going on. However, they didn't have to strain to realize that Illinois was the superior team.

The first thing that helped the Illini win their sixth game of 2010 - and clinch bowl eligibility in the process - was the fact that Persa, NU's dynamic quarterback, was out with an achilles tendon injury suffered the week before against Iowa. If Persa had been healthy, the Wildcats and coach Pat Firzgerald would have loved their chances against Ron Zook's Illinois outfit. As it was, though, the Illini were good enough to take advantage of Northwestern's deficiency, and they did so by racing past NU's lead-footed defense.

 

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Illinois threw for only 40 yards in this game and coughed up two interceptions. With those kinds of numbers, you'd have thought that the Illini would have been in deep trouble. That was anything but the case. Illinois's utter lack of a passing game didn't matter; the boys from Champaign uncorked 519 rushing yards on the Wildcats, 212 of them in the first quarter alone. Running back Mikel Leshoure rumbled for 330 yards in a devastating performance, while teammates Nathan Scheelhaase and Jason Ford combined for "only" 183 yards on the ground. With that kind of dominance, Illinois didn't need to pass the ball. Had Persa taken the field, Northwestern probably wouldn't have been able to hang with the Orange Crush, who made Wrigley Field their own on a night that no Chicagoan will soon forget... for the right reasons.

Thanks to NCAA sanity and common-sense interventions, an end zone went largely unused, and no one got severely hurt by the Chicago Cubs' ivy-covered brick wall. That's a bigger win than the significant triumph registered by the Illinois Fighting Illini.

By Matt Zemek
DFN Sports Senior Staff Writer

 

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