By Teddy Greenstein, Chicago Tribune reporter
8:59 PM EST, November 24, 2012
Kain Colter grabbed the Land of Lincoln trophy and marched toward the student section.
With "Go U Northwestern" playing, Colter hoisted it to match the song's beat. Big mistake.
"I didn't think it would be that heavy," he said. "It was a workout, so I gave it to the offensive linemen."
Colter had done enough, throwing a career-high three touchdown passes and rushing for 88 yards in his team's 50-14 demolition of Illinois.
NU officials did not celebrate Saturday by playing "Sweet Home Chicago," as the Illini did last season at Memorial Stadium. The Ryan Field video board did not trumpet a victory by "Chicago's Big Ten Team."
And NU coach Pat Fitzgerald used subs during NU's 11-minute, fourth-quarter drive.
"If I wanted to rub it in, I'd throw the football every down," he said. "It's not what we do around here."
Besides, why pass it when the opponent is powerless to stop the run? The Wildcats rushed it 67 times for 338 yards, not punting once.
Six Wildcats scored — eight if you count kicker Jeff Budzien (two field goals) and third-string defensive lineman Max Chapman, whose end-zone tackle of tailback Dami Ayoola allowed Northwestern to hang half a hundred on its rivals.
"We have a motto: Everybody eats," Colter said. "Everybody wants a taste of the end zone."
And now that the Wildcats have reclaimed "The Hat," they want to keep it in Evanston.
"I think that belongs in our trophy case," said Venric Mark, who rushed for 127 yards. "It should stay there for a while."
Added Colter: "We're going to keep it here for a few years. That's the plan."
Northwestern (9-3, 5-3 Big Ten) finished with its best regular season since 2008. It all but locked up a Jan. 1 bowl game in Florida. The Capital One (Orlando) is a possibility, and the Outback (Tampa) looks promising unless Wisconsin upsets Nebraska in Saturday's Big Ten title game.
"We'll play an SEC team in their backyard and we'll be underdogs by like 75 points," Fitzgerald said. "Nothing new."
The Illinois (2-10, 0-8) offseason, meanwhile, already has begun.
This game turned, appropriately enough, on a turnover. (Appropriate because Northwestern began the day plus-11 in turnover margin and Illinois was minus-10, worst in the Big Ten.)
After Justin Green fumbled a kickoff, Colter needed just two rushes to score from 19 yards out. Colter's next touchdown was a 9-yard strike to a streaking Tony Jones — intended for fellow wideout Christian Jones.
"I don't know where Tony came from," Colter said."That surprised me."
Illinois' defense was caught off guard by two other NU touchdowns — a 24-yard lob to tackle-eligible Paul Jorgensen and a reverse-field screen pass to Tyris Jones. Illinois was so fooled, it had only one defender in the area. Patrick Ward blocked him, leaving center Brandon Vitabile with no one to shove.
But the oddest play came when linebacker David Nwabuisi intercepted a pass and returned it up the left sideline, only to find Illinois coach Tim Beckman on his keister.
"Yeah, I noticed him," Nwabuisi said. "He didn't get the in the way, but he took (away) my concentration for a second. I was a little confused. But it's all good. It's a passionate game."