Juice Williams waves to the crowd as he walks off the field after defeating Northwestern. (AP Photo/Brad Vest)
Nov. 17, 2007
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - A week after leading his team to an upset of Ohio State, Illinois quarterback Juice Williams led the Illini a step closer to a New Year's Day bowl with a 41-22 win Saturday over Northwestern.
Williams ran for 136 yards and two touchdowns and passed for 220 yards and another score.
The 20th-ranked Illini (9-3, 6-2 Big Ten) are considered a strong candidate for the Capitol One Bowl, where coach Ron Zook could face his former team Florida.
Northwestern (6-6, 3-5) started the day with a good possibility of landing in a bowl. But with 10 Big Ten teams eligible, the Wildcats needed a seventh win to improve their case.
The Wildcats, though, couldn't stop the Illini offense, which piled up 541 yards, scored on each of its first two possessions and capitalized on mistakes that plagued Northwestern in the first half.
Wildcat quarterback C.J. Bacher was intercepted by safety Kevin Mitchell with nobody else within 10 yards of him on their first possession. Illinois went 71 yards the other way, capped by a Rashard Mendenhall touchdown for a 7-0 lead.
The next Northwestern drive was undone by a false start penalty that turned a third-and-1 situation into a third-and-6, which the Wildcats couldn't convert.
Again, Illinois responded with a touchdown, this time a sneak by Williams.
Northwestern had seven penalties for 57 yards by halftime, and had the ball on offense eight minutes less than the Illini.
When Illinois scored on its opening possession of the second half - a one-handed 42 yard TD catch by tight end Jeff Cumberland - the score was 28-7 and the game was out of reach.
Bacher completed 29 of 49 passes for 310 yards and touchdowns with two interceptions.
Northwestern's most effective weapon Saturday might have been punter Stefan Demos, who pinned Illinois deep several times with low, rugby-style punts that rolled with precision toward the Illinois end zone.
The Wildcat defense never capitalized on the work of the freshman punter, though. Illinois scored on drives of 97, 94 and 84 yards.
Mendenhall, the Big Ten's leading rusher, finished with 124 yards on 27 carries with two touchdowns. Cumberland was Williams' favorite target, catching four balls for 131 yards and a score.