SOC - Northwestern
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Since we're a team without a true rival - there's no Ohio State-Michigan or Duke-North Carolina happening here - every fan has their own set of rivals. Personally, I hate losing two games: Missouri basketball and Northwestern football. Oh dear God look at the schedule tomorrow.
Thankfully, life has offered a bit of a reprieve(?). My son and his new bride (well, new as of this summer) will be in town. He drove a trailer back from Idaho to pick up some things and move them back to Idaho (see, I'm not the only one in the family who drives crazy distances), so I'll get to see him tomorrow. When you have a child who moves far away and then comes home with his wife for a visit, well, you basically ditch everything else. Yes, even Northwestern Football/Missouri basketball.
Tyler will be in Columbia covering the basketball game. And I should be able to watch most of the Northwestern game and can probably write about it quickly after the game. I considered making this post a combo "here's my thoughts on both games tomorrow", but you don't really want my thoughts on the Missouri game. You do? No you don't:
- We're coming off our best win in years, on the road, at Duke. Now we go on the road for what's usually referred to as a Letdown Game. If we were playing Nebraska at home tomorrow, I'd be worried.
- Missouri probably has their best team since 2013, and the game is at their place.
- They have a Chicago point guard with a chip on his shoulder because we didn't recruit him, they have another guard who used to play for the Illini but left because of our coach, they have a guy who recommitted to Illinois under Underwood but then flipped to Missouri, and they have a fourth guy from Belleville who ~was~ committed to Illinois until Underwood got the job and then he flipped to Missouri (and that guy has scored 17 and 18 points the last two years in this game).
- Oh, Missouri has won this game two times in a row. Ayo has played in both of those games. The only real change here is that Feliz and Griffin are gone and Belo and Ace are here now. Basically, the rosters haven't changed much the last two years. And that roster they have has beaten this roster we have.
Add all of that up and you see why the line is only 2 points. Yes, we're #6 and they're unranked. But Dee-Deron-Luther won by 3. The 1989 team won by 6. This game will never be easy (except for when Missouri hires a Division III coach in what I still want declared as the worst coaching hire in United States history). Wins the last dozen years at Missouri. See if you can spot the three Kim Anderson seasons: 31-23-23-30-23-23-9-10-8-20-15-15.
Ha! "I considered making this post a combo preview but..." followed by a combo preview. On to football. No, I'm not giving you a Braggin' Rights prediction. Please, just win by one.
My first thought on this football game: will Fitzee sit some of the starters in the second half because they've already won the Big Ten West? He basically did that in 2018. AJ Bush had us driving in Northwestern territory late down eight looking to tie the game (interception in the redzone sealed it). And I remember being all "this is a trophy game and they're not putting all 11 starters back in while we're driving to tie it?" and then I realized it was a very Fitzee move.
So I somewhat expect that tomorrow. It's going to be sloppy (game is at 11:00, 100% chance of rain in Evanston, isn't supposed to begin to taper off until 3:00 or 4:00 and might change to a little snow around 5:00), so this is going to be the Purdue game from last year. And let me check the winds again... National Weather Service says "north wind 15 to 25 mph, with gusts as high as 35 mph". So yeah... grass field, 100% chance of rain, winds 15-25 gusting to 35 - gonna be sloppy.
I feel like that favors Northwestern. Most of the week I planned to predict a win tonight (just felt like Northwestern's "we win, but never by more than 10" streak was due to run out), but with this weather forecast, I'm not sure we can win a sloppy game. I do think we can have some success on the ground, especially if Epstein is back, but with everyone struggling to find footing, it feels like their excellent defense will determine the outcome. We'd need turnovers to win, I think. And not turn it over ourselves.
If the winds are really whipping out of the north like that, it's going to be a field position game. So that's helpful having Hayes. And a game like this where teams punt on 4th and 7 from the 31 because a FG into the wind is impossible and you can't trust your footing to get eight yards, it would be helpful to have a robo-punter who can drop it at the five when he needs to.
But again, this is a Northwestern defense allowing 15.3 ppg this season. If they held Maryland to 3 and Nebraska to 13 and Wisconsin to 7, do you really think we're going to score 20+ in rain and 25 mph winds? I mean, I want that hat, and I'd love to see it, but I can't see it.
So I think I'll settle here: low scoring game. Field conditions deteriorate as the game goes along. It's fairly even, but turnovers by both teams keep anyone from doing much of anything. In the end, we cover, but we can't generate enough offense to win.
Northwestern 20, Illinois 10