Illinois rips Northwestern, falls short in Big Ten West bid


EVANSTON, Ill. (AP) — Safety Sydney Brown returned a touchdown and an interception for scores and Illinois snapped a three-game…

EVANSTON, Ill. (AP) — Safety Sydney Brown returned a touchdown and an interception for scores and Illinois snapped a three-game losing streak with a 41-3 rout of Northwestern on Saturday.

Brown raced 53 yards for a touchdown after Northwestern quarterback Cole Freeman fumbled, then sprinted in for a 39-yard score off an interception, both in the third quarter.

Illinois (8-4 overall, 5-4 Big Ten) entered with a chance to win the Big Ten West and advance to the conference championship for the first time. However, Purdue defeated Indiana 30-16 to win the division title and will play Michigan at Indianapolis next Saturday.

Brown’s twin brother, running back Chase Brown, punched in a 1-yard touchdown and finished with 61 yards on 19 carries. He entered leading the nation in yards rushing with 1,582 yards but fell short of Mikel Leshoure’s single-season school record of 1,697 in 2010.

Tommy DeVito threw for 136 yards on 12-for-18 passing and ran for a touchdown, and Reggie Love III scored on 2-yard touchdown run to get the Illinois offense rolling. Caleb Griffin kicked a pair of field goals as the Illini finished with eight or more wins for the first time since the 2007 Rose Bowl team finished 9-4.

The Illini have a winning conference record for the first time since 2007 when they went 6-2.

The Illini handed Northwestern its 11th straight loss following a season-opening win over Nebraska in Dublin, Ireland. The Wildcats, 1-8 in the Big Ten, managed only Adam Stage’s field goal.

The Illini bounced back after a tough 19-17 loss at Michigan last week. Jake Moody made a 35-yard field goal for the Wolverines in that one with nine seconds left, handing Illinois its third straight loss after winning six straight.

Illinois led 17-0 at the half on Love’s 2-yard TD punch-in, Griffin’s 23-yard field goal and De Vito’s 1-yard keeper with 1:25 left.

Northwestern seemed be getting on a roll with several drives in the first half, but Freeman, a second-year walk-on, threw three of his four interceptions in his second career start.

The Illinois defense, which entered ranked second in the nation, also kept Northwestern’s Evan Hull in check. The Illini limited the running back to 53 yards on 20 carries and three receptions for 33 yards.

Illinois put it away in the second half on Griffin’s second field goal and Brown’s TD runs.

Freeman was replaced by Jack Lausch after his fourth interception.

THE TAKEAWAY

Illinois: The Illini continue to progress under second-year head coach Bret Bielema, improving on their 5-7 overall and 4-5 conference records in 2021.

Illinois peaked at 7-1, 4-1 Big Ten and No. 14 in the national after a 26-9 win over Nebraska on Oct. 29.

Northwestern: Error-prone and injury-raked, Northwestern became decreasingly competitive as the season wore on and the losses grew more lopsided.

UP NEXT

Illinois: The Illini figure to get a bowl invitation. After that, they’ll host Toledo in their 2023 season opener.

Northwestern: Opens it 2023 scheduled on Sept. 2 at Rutgers. It should be the final season for the Wildcats in 97-year-old Ryan Field, slated to be demolished and replaced with a privately-funded 35,000-seat stadium.

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