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On Saturday afternoon, football was played in Wrigley Field for the first time in 40 years, and Illinois running back Mikel LeShoure made the event all the more memorable. His 330 yards on the ground set a school record and propelled the Illini over Big Ten rival Northwestern, 48-27.
The entire Illinois offense, it seemed, preferred to conduct business on the ground. Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase rushed for 97 yards -- more than doubling his passing yards on the day -- and Jason Ford added another 86 rushing yards to bring the team's rushing total to 519 yards.
Northwestern also performed well on the ground, with Mike Trumpy rushing for 127 yards. After climbing out of a 14-0 hole in the first half, Northwestern's attack fizzled. Quarterback Evan Watkins filled in for the sorely-missed Dan Persa, who was injured at the end of last Saturday's game and learned he would be out for the rest of the season.
The confines of Wrigley Field turned out not to have much of an impact on the game itself, although one touchdown was scored at the foreboding east end zone following an interception return. The goals were not switched at halftime; rather, the teams simply traded bench areas at the half.
With this win, Illinois improves to 6-5 and is bowl-eligible. Northwestern, meanwhile, drops to 7-4.
In the third quarter of Saturday's action at Wrigley Field, the breakneck offensive pace of the game was tempered somewhat, as an Illini touchdown accounted for the only score. Entering the fourth quarter, Illinois leads Northwestern, 34-24.
The touchdown came as quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase connected with A.J. Jenkins for a ten-yard touchdown pass. It was only the sixth completion of the day for Scheelhaase, whose 76 rushing yards dwarf his 40 yards through the air.
Illini running back Mikel LeShoure added a few yards to his enormous first-half rushing total. LeShoure enters the fourth quarter with 239 rushing yards, and Illinois has 380 yards on the ground as a team.
Northwestern now trails by ten in the fourth quarter.
On Saturday, Northwestern and Illinois are playing football at Wrigley Field. Judging from the halftime score, though, one would be forgiven for assuming that the two teams are playing basketball.
At the half, Illinois leads Northwestern, 27-24 after a wild thirty minutes. The big story is the show put on thus far by Illini running back Mikel LeShoure, who has already taken the ball 18 times for 208 yards. (The NCAA's single-game rushing record, in case you're curious, was set in 1996, when some fellow named LaDainian Tomlinson rushed for 406 yards against UTEP.)
In fact, including quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase's 75 rushing yards and Jason Ford's 20, Illinois has a somewhat unbelievable 303 rushing yards at halftime. Luckily for Northwestern, the Illinois passing attack has been worse than ineffective, as they've thrown for two interceptions and only 16 yards in nine passing attempts.
Northwestern has also preferred to keep the ball on the ground. While quarterback Evan Watkins, filling in for the sorely-missed Dan Persa, is 4-for-9 with 72 yards passing, running back Mike Trumpy has 97 rushing yards at the half.
This has been a wild affair from the start, with multiple plays busting out for at least 70 yards, five turnovers, and a fumbled-and-recovered punt return that went almost all the way to the end zone. Here's hoping the second half is just as entertaining.
Well, we have seen a team score a touchdown in Wrigley Field's East end zone, the one with the ivy and the bricks, thanks to a Northwestern pick-six. After Illinois rushed -- with success -- on their first ten plays, they decided to attempt a trick passing play. It failed, as Northwestern's Brian Peters picked off the ball and ran it all the way back for the score.
After this brief, radical experiment with something called "passing," Illinois returned to its proven method. Mikel LeShoure picked up right where he left off with a 70-yard run that put the Illini in a first-and-goal situation, and Jason Ford followed up with a short trot into the end zone.
Illinois now leads Northwestern, 21-7, and we're still in the first quarter. The spectacle is no longer Wrigley Field. It is Mikel Leshoure. The man has 147 rushing yards for Illinois, and there are still over four minutes remaining in the first quarter. This is one you'll want to watch if you have either ESPNU or ESPN3.
On Saturday in Wrigley Field, Illinois has struck first, taking first possession and running through the Northwestern defense to take a 7-0 lead. Running back Mikel LeShoure has been Illinois' offense thus far.
No, really. Mikel LeShoure accounted for all three plays of Illinois' opening drive, as he galloped for runs of 32, 30, and 4 yards to drive to the end zone. LeShoure has already surpassed 1,000 rushing yards for the season, with 164 more through the air.
On the ensuing Northwestern possession, the Wildcats coughed up the ball, giving Illinois possession again. Did the Illini bother passing in this possession? Nope! After three rushes from quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, LeShoure took the ball three more times to punch it in for his second touchdown of the day. Illinois leads early, 14-0.
Thus far, the claustrophobic Wrigley Field confines haven't been an issue for the men on the field, but they have been somewhat problematic for ESPNU's film crew (screencap via @bubbaprog):
The fans, though, are coming through with the signage:
For Saturday's Northwestern-Illinois game at Wrigley Field, one of the end zones will back up flush against the right-field wall. On Friday, someone finally realized that this is in violation of NCAA rules, as six feet of space is required outside of the back of the end zone. As a result, the decision was made that Northwestern and Illinois will not switch sides at halftime.
The problem is that this, too, apparently violates NCAA rules. An intrepid commenter over Every Day Should Be Saturday, 4.0 Point Stance, explains:
I hope Northwestern is ok playing a game that doesn’t count. The Big Ten’s proposed rule chages clearly violate the NCAA rulebook.
Rule 3-1-2 states that “Between the first and second periods and also between the third and fourth periods, the teams shall defend opposite goal lines.” (p. FR-63).
Fine, but the teams agreed to waive that rule by mutual consent. Except the rulebook also states which rules may be waived (for instance, halftime is 20 minutes, but teams can agree to a different time). “Some administrative rules (as indicated) may be altered by the mutual consent of the competing institutions. Others (as indicated) are unalterable. No conduct rule may be changed by mutual consent.” (p. FR-16).
There is a list at pages FR-16 and 17 of those rules which may be waived, and any rule not listed is unalterable even by mutual consent. Rule 3-1-2, needless to say, is not listed as alterable. It is therefore a “conduct rule” and cannot be waived.
If the NCAA were to actually enforce its rulebook literally, this game would not count. Will they have the guts to do that? Certainly not. But the lawyer in me demands strict enforcement of the letter of the law.
Huge propers for digging this up. Of course, it's extremely unlikely that the NCAA would enforce this to the letter of the law and void the result of the game, but to recap the funny fallout:
- Northwestern and Illinois agree to play at Wrigley Field. The teams have two years to plan.
- During these two years, apparently nobody in a position of authority realizes that the dimensions are in violations of field regulations.
- The day before the game, they attempt to rectify this by not switching end zones at halftime. This brings up another violation of NCAA rules.
This ought to be a real gas folks. When the game kicks off (3:30 p.m.), be sure to check back with this StoryStream, which we'll be updating as the game is in progress.
Neither Northwestern nor Illinois are ranked entering Saturday's game, but simply by virtue of it being a Big Ten rivalry game, it surely makes for a decent draw to begin with. In a clever scheduling move, however, the schools agreed to play this game at Wrigley Field, making it the first time the Friendly Confines has hosted a football game in 40 years.
This curiosity has earned national attention, and if it were televised by the likes of ABC, ESPN, or CBS, it would attract a lot of viewers. And that's the problem: it's being broadcast on ESPNU (3:30 p.m.), which many basic cable subscribers don't have. (Luckily, though this isn't quite television, the game will be broadcast online at ESPN3 for those who have access.)
Now, coverage rights would likely get in the way of, say, CBS broadcasting this game. This is why I wish one of the teams involved was Notre Dame. The Irish are mediocre this year, to be sure, but South Bend is close enough to Wrigley for it to make perfect sense, and NBC would have been likely to broadcast it.
We can't really point the finger at anyone in particular. And, hey, it's quite possible that football at Wrigley won't be as interesting or fun as we think it will be. The likelihood, though, is that the college football behemoth has failed to fully capitalize on it.
C'est la vie. Whatever the case, we'll be posting live updates during the Northwestern-Illinois game here on SB Nation. If you're not able to watch the game, or even if you are, check back with this StoryStream when the game kicks off.
Here's the latest on this morning's decision to have Northwestern and Illinois share one endzone for Saturday's Big Ten game at Wrigley Field. First, from ESPN, a timeline on the publicity runup that led to the decision to curb action on the east side of the field:
According to [Illinois spokesman Kent Brown], "The Big Ten was made aware of a rule that says it needs to be 12 feet from the back of the end zone to the barrier.
There is a bit of a natural assumption when we signed off and said we'd love to play there and we were told that the field fits. I don't know that anybody looks up that rule until you see [actual the field layout]."
About that rule ... Stewart Mandel raises the question we really want answered; namely, how did this never occur to anyone over the past two years of planning?
On page 27 of the book NCAA Football Rules and Interpretations (which can be located with a quick Google search), in a section about field "dimensions," the NCAA clearly states: "Limit lines shall be marked ... 12 feet outside the sidelines and the end lines, except in stadiums where total field surface does not permit. In these stadiums, the limit lines shall not be less than six feet from the sidelines and end lines."
Six feet. Not one foot.
Which begs the obvious question: Why did it take until the day before the game to address this?
For extra giggles, check out the statement the Cubs released that gracefully tosses the Big Ten beneath a passing motorcade:
The field dimension layout was delivered to the Big Ten approximately eight months ago and was approved by the conference. Last month, the field was built exactly to the dimensions previously approved by the Big Ten.
And you think the baseball types are mad? Imagine how disgruntled ticketholders in that east endzone are feeling about now.
SB Nation's Sippin' On Purple is collecting clever sign suggestions to take to this weekend's broadcast of GameDay. Among their favorites:
"The Watkinsurgency is here". Classic. Site-oriented. Watkins. I'd call this the favorite, knowing my voting populace.
"Yes we Evan" Barack Obama is Evan Watkins. I'll use the Eff Yeah Evan Watkins moustache pic. But that goes without saying. Thanks to NUFTW for this one.
Old Spice Evan Watkins: I'm not sure where I'll go with this. I already have a good usable image of the Old Spice guy because he's on our rush shirts this year. The suggestion was just a picture of him and the words "based on the life of Evan Watkins" - thanks to Andrew Patzke in the comments.
Lee Corso: Picking the Cubs since 1908. I don't want to hate on other college football teams. The Cubs, however, that's doable. Also, Lee Corso. Tool. Thanks to thedeadpoint in the comments.
Prepare for Artificial WatkInsemination: A picture of Evan Watkins holding a turkey baster. I came up with this and am super proud.
Oh man. It's going to be awesome. I can see it now, fade to the back of the endzone and then.... fade to black. This just will not end well. The NCAA's insatiable lust for dolla dolla bills y'all has turned our beloved game into arena football. Even so, I'm willing to forgive. Face it folks, one of the most exciting things about football is the injuries. You never know when you're going to see the next Protho, Theisman or this poor schmuck end their careers in a horrifying, gruesome way. Is it any coincidence that All-State Insurance is sponsoring this and making the game of miserable life threatening injuries, more dangerous? No. It's just a coincidence. Move on.
The Illini enter this matchup with a two-game losing streak in tow. The team has had its ups and downs this season resulting in a 5-5 overall mark and that includes just a 3-4 record in-conference. The Illini were home last weekend, but suffered a 38-34 setback at the hands of Minnesota.
The Wildcats on their other hand have won two of their last three games and now sit at 7-3 overall and an even 3-3 in Big Ten action. The team hosted nationally-ranked Iowa last weekend and posted a 21-17 victory in the upset.
These two teams will battle for the "Land of Lincoln" trophy. This is the 104th meeting in this longstanding series with Illinois holding a 52-46-5 series advantage, but Northwestern has won two straight and six of the last seven meetings, overall.
The Illini have been a strong offensive team this year, averaging 31.5 ppg. The strength of the unit comes on the ground, where Illinois is churning out 207.1 yards per game. Junior tailback Mikel Leshoure is having a banner season thus far, rumbling for 1,041 yards and 11 TDs, getting it done on 5.2 yards per carry. Redshirt freshman QB Nathan Scheelhaase has been instrumental in the running game as well (587 yards, three TDs). He has had moderate success throwing the ball as well, completing nearly 60 percent of his passes, for 1,482 yards and 15 TDs. The top target in the vertical game has clearly been junior WR A.J. Jenkins, who has hauled in 40 receptions, for 595 yards and five TDs (all team-highs).
Inconsistent play on the defensive side of the ball has plagued the Illini this season, resulting in the team allowing 23.9 ppg. Junior middle linebacker Martez Wilson has had a strong season thus far, leading the way with 93 total tackles, with 7.5 TFLs, 2.0 sacks, an INT and a fumble recovery. Senior LB Nate Bussey is a distant second in stops (63), with one INT and three fumble recoveries. Junior free safety Trulon Henry (50 tackles) has been active as well and paces the team with three INTs.
Northwestern has had great success on offense, thanks to a balanced attack that is generating over 400 yards per game (410.7). The ground game is netting a serviceable 145.4 yards per game, while the passing attack has been steady at 265.3 yards per outing. Quarterback Dan Persa has been the man this year in both facets of the game, pacing the team in rushing (519 yards, nine TDs), while also completing a hefty 73.5 percent of his passes, for 2,581 yards and 15 TDs, with only four INTs. Junior wide receiver Jeremy Ebert has quietly had a superb season in Evanston, amassing 54 receptions, 849 receiving yards and eight scores.
The numbers allowed by the NU defense have mimicked the offense, as the team is allowing 137.4 yards per game on the ground and 249.6 through the air. Still, this is a unit that has made plays when it counted the most. Leading the way is junior safety Brian Peters, with 73 total tackles. Senior middle linebacker Nate Williams is a close second with 67 stops, including 8.5 TFLs and two sacks. A force along the defensive line, junior rush end Vince Browne is tearing it up, with team-highs in TFLs (13.0) and sacks (7.0).
The Illini have been hot and cold while the Wildcats have been surprisingly sharp down the stretch. The big win over Iowa could propel NU to an even stronger finish.
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