CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) — The conditions Saturday at Memorial Stadium were a depressing combination of rain, wind and flop sweat. The home crowd was leaving wet and unhappy after witnessing rival Northwestern upset the bowl-bound Illini 29-10.
But one thing remained constant. Illinois coach Lovie Smith was his usual stoic, almost upbeat self afterward
“So, today wasn’t our best,” Smith said, smiling serenely. “Disappointment is not a strong enough word for today. But hey, we’re going bowling.”
Not so for Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald, whose team finishes the season in the Big Ten West cellar.
“We take this rivalry very seriously,” Fitzgerald said. “We have a lot to be grateful for, especially for our seniors. That was five straight (wins) against our in-state rivals.”
Sophomore Andrew Marty, who came into camp last summer fourth on the depth chart, ran for 111 yards and two touchdowns while passing for another.
It was the first Big Ten win this season for Northwestern (3-9, 1-8). Illinois — 21-point favorites going into the game — finished the regular season 6-6 and 4-5 in the conference. Illinois is bowl-bound despite the loss and will learn its destination on Dec. 8.
Marty made his first career start for the Wildcats after replacing Hunter Johnson during last week’s game. Marty was the first Northwestern quarterback since Clayton Thorason in 2015 to gain at least 100 yards rushing in a game.
“I saw a leader,” said Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald. “I saw a guy that was tough and physical. We’re seeing some of our younger players really come into their own.”
Smith, while not pleased with his team’s performance, heaped praise on Fitzgerald and the Wildcats.
“I have to give Pat Fitzgerald a lot of credit,” Smith said. “They dominated us all day, in every way. Not a lot of good things were happening for us out there today.”
Northwestern put up 433 yards in total offense compared with only 160 for Illinois. Northwestern also dominated the time of possession, 41:48 to 18:12.