Northwestern rolls Illinois to become bowl eligible
(AP) Justin Jackson rushed for 173 yards and three touchdowns, John Moten added 128 yards and two touchdowns and Northwestern became bowl eligible with a 42-21 victory over Illinois on Saturday.
Clayton Thorson completed 13 of 20 passes for 121 yards and a touchdown as the Wildcats improved to 6-6 and 5-4 in the Big Ten.
Wes Lunt completed 28 of 54 passes for 377 yards and two touchdowns for Illinois (3-9, 2-7), which closed out its first season under coach Lovie Smith with three straight losses.
Jackson moved into second place on Northwestern’s all-time rushing list – passing Darnell Autry (3,793) and Tyrell Sutton (3,886) with 3,905. Jackson has 27 career rushing TDs.
After trailing 21-0, Illinois rallied for two touchdowns to pull within 21-14 at halftime and appeared headed for a game-tying score on its first possession of the second half when things fell apart.
First, running back Reggie Corbin fumbled at the 8-yard line and safety Godwin Igwebuike recovered to give the ball – and momentum – back to Northwestern.
Two plays later, Illinois safety Stanley Green was ejected after a targeting penalty for a hit on wide receiver Flynn Nagel. The 15-yard penalty (on top of the 10-yard completion) advanced the ball to the NU 46. Jackson then broke a 54-yard scoring run to make it 28-14 with 9:24 remaining in the third quarter.
Leading 35-21 early in the fourth quarter, Northwestern put the game away on a 4-yard TD run by Jackson. The score was set up by a 66-yard interception return by Montre Hartage to the 5.
Illinois running back Kendrick Foster suffered an apparent right-leg injury on the third play from scrimmage and did not return.
Illinois: The Illini’s 28 first-time starters this season heading into Saturday were the most in the nation, which is a sign the program is in the early stages of a rebuilding plan. To have any chance of flipping the record next season, more consistent offensive production is a must. Lunt’s 19-yard TD pass to Malik Turner in the second was the Illini’s first TD in nine quarters.
Northwestern: Although it’s a far cry from last year’s 10 wins, winning two of the final three games to become bowl eligible is an accomplishment for a program that doesn’t take winning for granted. With Thorson, Jackson and Moten returning, the Wildcats should have an explosive offense next season.
Illinois: The Illini’s season is over.
Northwestern: The regular season is over, but the Wildcats will make a second straight bowl appearance.