Saturday, November 20, 2010
Leshoure puts on a show in Wrigley win
By Adam Rittenberg
The first football game at Wrigley Field since 1970 will be remembered for a lot of things.
Mikel Leshoure's performance might be at the top of the list.
Leshoure rushed for a team-record 330 yards -- the fifth-highest single-game total in Big Ten history -- as Illinois pulled away for a 48-27 win against Northwestern. The historic effort by Leshoure ensures Illinois will be going bowling for the first time since reaching the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1, 2008.
Coach Ron Zook can stop saying "bowl game" now.
This was a game Illinois needed, and the Illini looked like they wanted it more in the second half. After a wild first 30 minutes that featured 51 points, a pick-six by Northwestern's Brian Peters that reached the dreaded East end zone and several huge runs, Illinois took control on both sides of the ball after the break. The Illini limited Northwestern quarterback Evan Watkins to 135 pass yards and an interception, and Leshoure simply couldn't be stopped on the ground.
Defensive coordinator Vic Koenning received a lot of praise in the first half of the season for turning around an underachieving unit. Now it's Paul Petrino's turn. He has done a great job with this offense the past five games.
Pat Fitzgerald will be disgusted with Northwestern's defense, and rightfully so after the Wildcats surrendered 559 yards. Northwestern seemed to be getting it together on defense last week against Iowa, but Saturday was a huge step backward. It will only get tougher for the Dan Persa-less Wildcats next week against surging Wisconsin.
Despite the last-minute rule changes, the Wrigley Field game was still a cool thing to see. While I doubt it'll happen again, Northwestern got what it needed with incredible hype and attention.