Posted by Adam Jacobi
ILLINOIS WON. After a lackluster first half, then an 18-point deficit, No. 24 Illinois came storming back and won a wild 38-35 slugfest against Northwestern. Nathan Scheelhaase (pictured at right, enjoying a trophy) drove the Illini 69 yards in just six players after Northwestern took a late lead, and Scheelhaase plunged in one a one-yard sneak with 13 seconds left to give Illinois the hard-fought victory.
WHY ILLINOIS WON: A.J. Jenkins was an unstoppable demon force on Saturday, catching 12 throws for 268 yards and three touchdowns. Plain and simple, Northwestern's secondary had no answer for Jenkins, and it might well be the case that some other defenses in the Big Ten won't be able to stop Jenkins either. Miscues almost cost the Illini the game on multiple occasions, though, and if it weren't for that heroic drive starting with 1:19 left in the game (a drive that was started by a 28-yard pass to Jenkins) Northwestern would have taken this game home.
WHEN ILLINOIS WON: This game wasn't settled until Illinois fell on a loose ball at the end of the game as Northwestern tried -- unsuccessfully -- to lateral its way into the end zone. Northwestern came close, as Kain Colter took one of the laterals into Illinois territory on a sprint, but Illinois' defenders prevented Northwestern from getting much further and that was that.
WHAT ILLINOIS WON: Illinois is now 5-0, having won each of its last three games by a three-point margin. This was a major test for the Illini, and they barely -- just barely -- pulled through for the victory. It's clear that A.J. Jenkins is a force to be reckoned with at wideout, and Illinois has now won games both primarily on the ground and through the air. That versatility bodes well for the future. For now, though, Illinois is 5-0 for the first time since its magical 1951 season, and the Illini can shore up bowl eligibility next week when they travel to Indiana.
WHAT NORTHWESTERN LOST: For the Wildcats, it was great to see Dan Persa back at quarterback and working his magic. Persa threw for four touchdowns on just 14 attempts, and more than that he just plain looked good. Unfortunately, Persa had to leave the game in the fourth quarter after he was tripped up on a scramble and came up hobbling. Kain Colter entered the game for Persa and drove the Wildcats to one touchdown, but he's clearly inferior to Persa. Good news for NU, though: Persa will likely be fine, and he was removed for what Pat Fitzgerald called "precautionary reasons." Still, though, this was a 50-50 game for Northwestern, and the loss means that Northwestern's darkhorse division title aspirations are likely at an end.
THAT WAS CRAZY: Nobody was ejected from today's game. That's too bad, because Illinois DB Jonathan Brown certainly deserved to be after he kneed Northwestern lineman Patrick Ward square in the, ahem, "man parts" after a play was over. As it was, Brown earned an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for the act, and Northwestern would score a go-ahead touchdown on the very next snap. There's illegal play, there's dirty play, and then there's hits (or knees) below the belt. 15 yards doesn't seem sufficient for that.