Looking back on Illinois-Northwestern

September, 29, 2011
9/29/11
8:20
PM CT
The Illinois-Northwestern rivalry has seesawed over the last decade.

There were years where Illinois was undoubtedly the better team. There were others where Northwestern was. Only three times over the last 10 years have both teams entered the game with a winning record. That will again be the case on Saturday.

The rivalry recently hasn’t allowed for any upsets either. The team with the better record has won nine out of the last 10 years. The one instance was last year when 5-5 Illinois defeated 7-3 Northwestern.

The games have varied in suspense. In 2004, Northwestern won in overtime. Four of the last 10 games have been decided by seven points or less. Last year’s Illinois 21-point win was the largest during that span.

Here’s a quick look at the past 10 games of the rivalry:

Nov. 20, 2010: Last year’s matchup was already unique being played at Wrigley Field, but it became even more so when the Big Ten stepped in and found one end zone to be unsafe, forcing the game to be played in only one direction. The game was an offensive affair with the two teams combining for 35 points in the first quarter. Illinois running back Mikel Leshoure owned Wrigley Field’s grass for the day. He rushed for a school-record 330 yards. Northwestern’s Mike Trumpy rushed for 129 yards and two touchdowns. Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa missed the game due to an injury. The Illini pulled away in the second half and won 48-27.

Nov. 14, 2009: Northwestern got the best of Illinois the last time they met in Champaign. It was the first time they played for the Land of Lincoln Trophy. Wildcats quarterback Mike Kafka threw for 305 yards and a touchdown and rushed for another score in his team’s 21-16 win. Northwestern’s Sherrick McManis had a late interception to seal the win. The victory guaranteed Northwestern another bowl berth, and it sent Illinois to its second consecutive losing season. Illinois quarterback Juice Williams missed the game due to injury.

Nov. 22, 2008: In the final time the teams played for the Sweet Sioux Tomahawk, Northwestern came out on top 27-10 thanks to two touchdown passes by C.J. Bacher and five sacks of Illinois quarterback Juice Williams. Bacher clinched the win with a 18-yard touchdown pass to Eric Peterman in the fourth quarter. The victory gave Northwestern nine wins for the season for the first time since 1996. Northwestern’s students celebrated with the team on the field afterward. For Illinois, it was the end of a 5-7 season a year after going to the Rose Bowl.

Nov. 17, 2007: Illinois put the finishing touches on a special regular season with a 41-22 win over Northwestern in Champaign. It also snapped Northwestern’s four-game winning streak over it. The Illini later headed to the Rose Bowl. Illini running back Rashard Mendenhall scored his 16th and 17th rushing touchdowns of the season in the win, and quarterback Juice Williams rushed for 136 yards and two touchdowns and threw for 220 yards and a touchdown. Illinois went up 21-0 in the first half and never looked back. Northwestern wide receiver Eric Peterman had 10 receptions for 120 yards.

Nov. 18, 2006: In Pat Fitzgerald’s first Northwestern-Illinois game as the Wildcats head coach, Northwestern pulled out a 27-16 victory and won its fourth consecutive game over the Illini. This was the last game where both teams had losing seasons at the same time. Northwestern improved to 4-8 overall and 2-6 in the Big Ten. Illinois fell to 2-10 overall and 1-6 in the Big Ten. Northwestern opened the second half by recovering an onside kick. It then rallied from a 17-16 deficit with two field goals by Joel Howells and a touchdown by Tyrell Sutton, who had 110 rushing yards. Rashard Mendenhall had 113 yards and a touchdown on five carries in the loss.

Nov. 19, 2005: In Illinois coach Ron Zook’s introduction to the Northwestern rivalry, the Wildcats won 38-21 in Champaign. Northwestern quarterback Brett Basanez threw for two touchdowns and rushed for two touchdowns, and running back Tyrell Sutton had 212 rushing yards. Illinois quarterback Tim Brasic had two touchdown passes. It was Illinois’ ninth straight loss of the season. For Northwestern, the win helped it to get to the Sun Bowl, where they lost to UCLA.

Nov. 20, 2004: Northwestern won its fourth overtime game of the season by beating Illinois 28-21 in Evanston. The Wildcats pulled out the win with a 7-yard touchdown pass from Brett Basanez to Jonathan Fields in overtime. Overtime was set up by a 73-yard punt return touchdown by Northwestern’s Jeff Backes with 2:12 remaining in the fourth quarter. Illinois running back Pierre Thomas had 131 yards and two touchdowns in the loss. The loss dropped Illinois to 3-8 and was Ron Turner’s final game as head coach.

Nov. 22, 2003: Northwestern’s Jason Wright was unstoppable on the day. He rushed for 251 yards and four touchdowns in the Wildcats’ 37-20 win over Illinois in Champaign. Northwestern’s Noah Herron also rushed for 163 yards. Illinois led 13-7 at half, but had no answers for the Wildcats’ running game in the second half. The loss was Illinois’ 11th on the season and 10th in a row. Northwestern became bowl eligible for the first time since 2000 and later went to the Motor City Bowl.

Nov. 23, 2002: Illinois quarterback Jon Beutjer was in a groove in Evanston on this day. He threw for three touchdowns and ran for another in the Illini’s 31-24 win over Northwestern. Illinois’ Antoineo Harris also rushed for 178 yards and broke Robert Holcombe’s single-season rushing record of 1,281 yards. Northwestern had its chances, but only scored one field goal on five trips inside the Illini’s 5-yard line. The Wildcats rallied late with two touchdowns in the fourth quarter. Illinois finished the season 5-7 and Northwestern was 3-9.

Nov. 22, 2001: Illinois won the Big Ten championship after defeating Northwestern 34-28 in Champaign. Illini quarterback Kurt Kittner threw four touchdowns, including two to freshman Brandon Lloyd. Illinois went up 34-13 in the third quarterback before the Wildcats rallied late. Northwestern quarterback Zak Kustok threw four touchdowns. The Wildcats ended the season on a seven-game losing streak and were 4-7 on the year.
Scott Powers is a general reporter for ESPNChicago.com. He is an award-winning journalist and has been reporting on preps, colleges and pros for publications throughout the Midwest since 1997.

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