Scores

Final

Northwestern 22

(6-6, 3-5 Big Ten)

(20) Illinois 41

(9-3, 6-2 Big Ten)

Coverage: ESPN

12:00 PM ET, November 17, 2007

Memorial Stadium (Champaign, IL), Champaign, IL

1 2 3 4 T
NW 0 7 7 822
#20ILL 14 7 14 641

Top Performers

Passing: C. Bacher (NW) - 310 YDS, 2 TD, 2 INT

Rushing: R. Mendenhall (ILL) - 27 CAR, 124 YDS, 2 TD

Receiving: J. Cumberland (ILL) - 4 REC, 131 YDS, 1 TD

Northwestern unable to hold down Illinois' offense

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) -- As he watched Florida beat Ohio State in the national championship game back in January, Juice Williams, quarterback of two-win Illinois, had a crazy dream.

"I was just thinking, like, wow, I know it's a great feeling to be out there on the national stage," the sophomore said Saturday.

After polishing off their ninth win, 41-22 over Northwestern, the Illini (No. 19 BCS, No. 20 AP) almost certainly will live Juice's dream.

Leading The Pack
Tim Tebow

Running back Rashard Mendenhall recorded his 16th and 17th rushing touchdowns of the season against Northwestern on Saturday, setting a new Illinois single-season record.

Player Year TDs
Rashard Mendenhall 2007 17
Howard Griffith 1990 15
Johnny Karras 1951 13

It could be a showdown at the Jan. 1 Capital One Bowl with Illini coach Ron Zook's old team, Florida (No. 12 BCS, No. 14 AP), where a lot of fans still hold a grudge. Or a BCS bowl, if a few of the teams ahead of Illinois in the polls lose during the next two weeks.

Wherever they wind up, the Illini (9-3, 6-2) will have Williams to thank for leading them there.

A week after winning Big Ten offensive player of the week honors in the Illini's 28-21 upset of Ohio State, Williams didn't let down against Northwestern.

The sophomore ran for 136 yards and two touchdowns, and threw for 220 yards and another score.

Northwestern (6-6, 3-5) started the day with four straight wins against the Illini and a good possibility of landing in a bowl. Even with 10 Big Ten teams eligible, the Wildcats needed a seventh win to improve their chances.

The Wildcats, though, couldn't stop the Illini offense, which piled up 541 yards and 32 first downs, scored on its first two possessions and capitalized on mistakes that plagued Northwestern in the first half.

"We came out strong at the start of the game and then kept our composure after the half to keep control of the game," Zook said.

Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said the first half doomed his team.

"On the road early on, we needed to go out there and make some plays and compete with them, and obviously, from the outcome, we didn't do that," Fitzgerald said.

Wildcats quarterback C.J. Bacher was intercepted by safety Kevin Mitchell with nobody else within 10 yards of him on their first possession. Illinois went 71 yards the other way, capped by a Rashard Mendenhall touchdown for a 7-0 lead.

The next Northwestern drive was undone by a false start penalty that turned a third-and-1 into a third-and-6, which the Wildcats couldn't convert.

Again, Illinois responded with a touchdown, this time a sneak by Williams.

Northwestern had seven penalties for 57 yards by halftime, and had the ball on offense eight minutes less than the Illini.

When Illinois scored on its opening possession of the second half -- a one-handed 42-yard TD catch by wide receiver Jeff Cumberland -- the score was 28-7 and the game was out of reach.

Bacher completed 29 of 49 passes for 310 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions.

Punter Stefan Demos was one of Northwestern's most effective weapons, pinning the Illini deep several times with low, rugby-style kicks that rolled with precision toward the Illinois end zone.

The Wildcat defense never capitalized, though. Illinois scored on drives of 97, 94 and 84 yards, all punctuated by big plays. Williams averaged almost 15 yards a completion and six yards a carry.

"I think we're playing pretty good," Williams said. "We have a few things that we need to clean up, but overall we're doing pretty good."

Mendenhall, the Big Ten's leading rusher, finished with 124 yards on 27 carries with two touchdowns.

Cumberland, a 6-5, 244-pound sophomore who moved from tight end to receiver in the middle of the season, was Williams' favorite target, catching four balls for 131 yards and a score.

The touchdown was a play to remember. Cumberland hauled the ball in with one hand, then shook two defenders off his back on the way to the end zone.

With their regular season finished, the Illini, officially tied for second in the Big Ten a year after their 2-10, last-place nightmare, may have a long wait to find out where they play next.

If it happens, the Florida matchup could come at either the Capital One or Outback bowls, which were represented at Saturday's game.

Zook didn't talk much about bowl possibilities, but his players allowed themselves a look ahead.

"I don't know where we're going, but someplace warmer than Champaign-Urbana, I'm assuming," Illinois senior linebacker J Leman said.

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Team Stat Comparison

 
NW
ILL
1st Downs2132
Total Yards379541
Passing310220
Rushing69321
Penalties9-794-35
3rd Down Conversions2-108-14
4th Down Conversions0-20-0
Turnovers22
Possession21:3038:30

Passing Leaders

NorthwesternC/ATTYDSAVGTDINT
Bacher29/493106.322
IllinoisC/ATTYDSAVGTDINT
Williams15/232209.611

Rushing Leaders

NorthwesternCARYDSAVGTDLG
Sutton13715.5122
Roberson294.508
IllinoisCARYDSAVGTDLG
Williams231365.9221
Mendenhall271244.6217

Receiving Leaders

NorthwesternRECYDSAVGTDLG
Peterman1012012.0032
Sutton7689.7019
IllinoisRECYDSAVGTDLG
Cumberland413132.8148
Mendenhall3299.7019

Scoring Summary

FIRST QUARTERNWILL
TD10:36Rashard Mendenhall 3 Yd Run (Jason Reda Kick)
Drive: 8 plays, 71 yds, 2:39
07
TD05:38Isiah Williams 1 Yd Run (Jason Reda Kick)
Drive: 9 plays, 84 yds, 3:09
014
SECOND QUARTERNWILL
TD04:12Isiah Williams 1 Yd Run (Jason Reda Kick)
Drive: 16 plays, 97 yds, 8:12
021
TD02:35Tyrell Sutton 1 Yd Run (Amado Villarreal Kick)
Drive: 6 plays, 56 yds, 1:37
721
THIRD QUARTERNWILL
TD12:52Jeff Cumberland 42 Yd Pass From Isiah Williams (Jason Reda Kick)
Drive: 4 plays, 76 yds, 2:08
728
TD05:23Rashard Mendenhall 8 Yd Run (Jason Reda Kick)
Drive: 14 plays, 94 yds, 6:25
735
TD02:10Jeff Yarbrough 2 Yd Pass From C.J. Bacher (Amado Villarreal Kick)
Drive: 11 plays, 87 yds, 3:13
1435
FOURTH QUARTERNWILL
FG09:35Jason Reda 27 Yd
Drive: 9 plays, 58 yds, 4:06
1438
TD06:15Kim Thompson 18 Yd Pass From C.J. Bacher (C.J. Bacher Pass To Ross Lane For Two-Point Conversion)
Drive: 5 plays, 44 yds, :56
2238
FG04:37Jason Reda 49 Yd
Drive: 6 plays, 9 yds, 1:38
2241