When the Chicago Bears destroyed the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XX, they did so without much from Walter Payton. Sweetness didn’t score, he was held under three yards per carry, and his longest run was only seven yards. The Bears still won 46-10.
In utterly annihilating their in-state rivals, the Northwestern Wildcats, on rivalry Saturday in the Land of Lincoln Hat game, the Illini won 41-3 despite not a lot of contributions from their top gun, Chase Brown.
The man who has led the entire nation in rushing, wire to wire, was dinged with a knock in this one.
That’s how it goes sometimes- for these blue and orange brethren of the gridiron.
The shutdown defense, a dominant unit that can score all on its own takes over in certain games, and your superstar running back takes a back seat for that affair.
Chase Brown, a favorite for the Doak Walker Award (nation’s best running back), was held to just 61 yards and 13 carries. That’s an average of only 3.2 per carry. However, he did make a big play (43 yards) in the passing game.
Interestingly enough, Payton also had exactly 61 yards rushing in Super Bowl XX.
The Illini got it done, in a stadium that was about 60% empty, but about 80% clad in Illini colors, thanks to their D picking off Northwestern QB Cole Freeman four times
The orange crush D also forced five turnovers and scored two touchdowns off those turnovers. The twin brother of Chase Brown, Illini defensive back Sydney Brown, had both a fumble return for a touchdown and an interception returned for a touchdown.
Or as the kids like it call these days, a “scoop and a score” and a “pick-six.”
“Honestly, I was just trying to catch Spoon with the amount of picks he had today, so it’s a little DB in-house rivalry,” said Brown of his two picks.
“There’s just so much that I wanted to accomplish here,” said Sydney Brown of his fifth season.
“I’m just glad that the younger guys coming in, this is all they know. All they know is 8-4, and it’s only gonna get better from here.”
On the 8-4 regular-season finish, Sydney Brown said:
“It’s not what we wanted. It’s not how we wanted to finish, but it’s just a step in the right direction. Me being who I am and where I expect them to be, I think we could have easily been a team with 10 wins, in my opinion, but it’s a step in the right direction. Coach B is leading this team right. Coach Walt is leading the defense, too, so it’s a step in the right direction.”
The Illini lead the nation interceptions and boast a very stellar ball-hawking secondary. So when they went up against a QB who the third choice on a 1-11 team, well, you knew this was going to happen.
Freeman was so awful today that NU coach Pat Fitzgerald hooked him for the 4th choice QB, Jack Lausch. After a disastrous season, their third awful campaign in the last four years, Northwestern has some house cleaning to do.
Honestly, Fitzgerald needs to fire both coordinators Monday, as they were an embarrassment this season.
For Illinois, they finish 8-4 and hoping for a bowl game in Tampa or Orlando maybe. Perhaps Nashville is more likely though. Purdue fell behind to arch-rival Indiana early on today but rallied in the second half to clinch the Big Ten West title. Had Indiana won, the Illini would have been division champs, and set to face Michigan in Indianapolis next weekend.
“This is the seventh rematch game,” said Illini coach Bret Bielema, who was coaching a rivalry game just a couple days after losing his father-in-law, and a week after losing his mother.
“A year ago, we were a game shy of bowl eligibility. This year, we’re a game shy of making it to Indy.”
Bielema was very close with his father-in-law, and he teared up when discussing him during the press conference. He also said his team played “very pissed off” and it showed. The Illini kind of had a win stolen away from them last weekend, against a College Football Playoff opponent.
Before that, they blew the division title at home, in back to back weeks, against a bad team and then again against a good but not great team. Thus it was critical to end that three game losing streak and get a win in a convincing fashion.
Paul M. Banks is the Owner/Manager of The Sports Bank and author of “Transatlantic Passage: How the English Premier League Redefined Soccer in America,” as well as “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry.”