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Saturday, October 1, 2011
At the half: Northwestern leads Illinois

By Adam Rittenberg

They've reached halftime at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, so let's take a quick look.

Northwestern 14, Illinois 10: After a shaky start, Northwestern QB Dan Persa settled down a bit in his first appearance of the season. Persa threw two touchdown passes to spark a Northwestern offense that came into the game ranked ninth in the league in passing. The senior is 5-for-9 for only 48 yards. He hasn't tried to go downfield much as Northwestern has emphasized the run game with Mike Trumpy (50 yards) and others.

Illinois has moved the ball well at times, especially through the air against Northwestern's soft zone defense. But the Illini are beating themselves with penalties (5) and turnovers (2). For the first time this season, they paid for it. An Illinois defense that had prevented any points off of six giveaways finally caved late in the half as Persa found Jeremy Ebert for a touchdown. Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase needs to be more disciplined with the football, particularly in the red zone, where Illinois needs to improve its touchdown efficiency.

The Wildcats' defense clearly benefited from the bye week, as returning players like Collin Ellis have helped apply more pressure on Scheelhaase and the Illini rushing attack. Injuries are cropping up for the Illini, who are without No. 2 receiver Darius Millines.