WildcatReport's staff predicts whether Northwestern will recapture the Land of Lincoln Trophy when the Wildcats take on archrival and 24th-ranked Illinois (Saturday, 11 a.m. CT, ESPN2).
This week, longtime WR subscriber kreggk will be our special guest prognosticator, and the question we all had to answer was this: What actor would play the lead role if they made a movie of Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald's life?
Guest Prognosticator: kreggk
How will Northwestern utilize Dan Persa and Kain Colter? With Colter's game experience, they become interchangeable. Illinois will be hard-pressed to assume run or pass despite who is behind center. Seeing both on the field simultaneously is almost a given and Colter makes for a scary receiver.
Northwestern wins if… Their defense can contain Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase on option plays and force him into being a passer (easier said than done). On the other side of the ball, the NU offensive line absolutely has to establish a regular running game in order to take the weight off of Persa's shoulders. An errant throw by Riley O'Toole (when he almost certainly comes in to pass) would help..
Northwestern loses if… Their defensive line stays in the locker room and the game becomes a Wrigley-esque track meet.
The bottom line The Northwestern defense makes a respectable showing and Persa does not disappoint. Illinois learns what was missing in the Wrigley game last season. I pick Northwestern in a close one
Prediction Northwestern 31 Illinois 28.
Bonus Question: Who plays the lead role in The Pat Fitzgerald Story? Given what I saw after a few calls during the Army game, I'm certain there is NO ONE who can act as well as Fitz himself. Therefore, [off-stage voice] "Ladies and gentlemen, tonight the role of Pat Fitzgerald will be played by...Pat Fitzgerald."
How will Northwestern utilize Dan Persa and Kain Colter? Persa will definitely play. Oh, it's a different question this week? Okay. I think we might see similar sets as the TicketCity Bowl, with Colter being the one to split out wide. Of course, we could see him stick in the backfield and take a pitch or two. He'll throw it at least once.
Northwestern wins if… They contain the run and are able to control the clock with some short, precise pitch and catch.
Northwestern loses if… Persa is struggling and Fitz keeps him on, or if the offense simply can't see enough of the ball due to a patient Illini rushing attack.
The bottom line This matchup is a lot more even than Illinois fans with stars in their eyes would care to admit. They think they'll playing for the national crown in January, I think they lose tomorrow if they haven't learned from the Western Michigan game.
Prediction Northwestern 35 Illinois 28
Bonus Question: Who plays the lead role in The Pat Fitzgerald Story? Freddie Prinz Jr. I think they kind of look alike, plus I think Freddie can capture Fitz's boyish charm and enthusiasm.
How will Northwestern utilize Dan Persa and Kain Colter? Persa gets the start, Fitz decides to get tricky and put Colter in as a tailback or wideout on some looks, maybe even put him at QB and set Persa out wide just to mess with Illini.
Northwestern wins if... The defense starts to show some development. All the quarterback questions are moot if we don't have a defense.
Northwestern loses if… A Persa-led offense looks shaky and the Illini start feeling confident.
The bottom line Ron Zook seems to know just how to ride the hot seat. Every time he looks like he done for, he shows just enough coaching skills to buy himself a little more time. He's been finding his groove lately and that's dangerous.
Prediction Illinois 31 Northwestern 17 (forgive me)
Bonus Question: Who plays the lead role in The Pat Fitzgerald Story? At first thought, I just assumed Johnny Depp would have to slap on twenty pounds of muscle and get the hair just right. After all, who else can project such intense commitment and pure integrity? But I saw The Hurt Locker the other week and Jeremy Renner is the winner, hands down.
How will Northwestern utilize Dan Persa and Kain Colter? Persa will take every snap at quarterback, and Colter will be used largely as a decoy to attract the Illini's attention. Colter will attempt a few rushes and catch a few passes, similar to the role played by Trey Burton in Florida's offense.
Northwestern wins if… They stop the run. No one forgets Illinois racking up more than 500 yards on the ground against Northwestern last year. Mikel Leshoure may be gone, but Troy Pollard, Jason Ford, Donovonn Young and Scheelhaase are averaging almost 250 yards per game.
Northwestern loses if… They lose the time of possession battle. The formula should be simple: Keep the ball on the ground early, let Persa regain his confidence and keep the defense off the field.
The bottom line The team Northwestern fans have been looking forward to seeing since last November -- one with Persa at quarterback -- will finally become a reality, 11 months later. Persa will power the offense, and his presence will give a psychological boost to the defense in a high-scoring contest.
Prediction Northwestern 31 Illinois 27
Bonus Question: Who plays the lead role in The Pat Fitzgerald Story? Mike Ditka. As you can tell, I'm not a big movie guy.
How will Northwestern utilize Dan Persa and Kain Colter? It'll be something like last season's TicketCity Bowl, except with Persa in place of Watkins, of course. Don't be shocked if Persa sits out a few plays here and there.
Northwestern wins if… Persa really is the deciding factor for the Wildcats. They're 7-3 with him and 2-4 without him these past two seasons. Persa, along with other key players, coming back is the boost that this team needed after that unmentionable loss at Army.
Northwestern loses if… Scheelhaase puts on a Persa-like performance, using his arm and legs. What, you thought I'd say something about NU's run defense?
The bottom line All eyes are on Persa for this one, but the Illini have had an impressive 4-0 start to the season (sans that odd Western Michigan game). But which Zook-led team is this? Is it more like the Rose Bowl-bound edition from 2007 or the 2-10 team from 2006? Probably somewhere in the middle, but I'm not going to bet against Persa.
Prediction Northwestern 23 Illinois 20
Bonus Question: Who plays the lead role in The Pat Fitzgerald Story? Can't go wrong with Matt Damon, though he might be too old for the part.
How will Northwestern utilize Dan Persa and Kain Colter? Dan should start and play the majority of the snaps. Kain takes an occasional series, and as much as we're all going to hate it, he's probably not going to attempt a single pass and do a lot of running stuff that everyone in the stadium knows is coming. He also plays about ten downs split out wide.
Northwestern wins if… Persa plays a great game, even by his standards from last year.
Northwestern loses if… Tackling continues to not happen against a team that emphasizes the run.
The bottom line Between Scheelhaase and his slew of athletic running backs, the Fighting Illini are going to pound the ball down the field against the Wildcats. It'll be up to Persa to put up enough points to counteract that. There's no shame in losing to a ranked team on the road, so don't get too down if he can't pull it out in his first start.
Prediction Illinois 31 Northwestern 24
Bonus Question: Who plays the lead role in The Pat Fitzgerald Story? The only person with the intensity and sheer killing power to play Fitzgerald is Jason Statham. They'll have to alter Fitz's life a bit to make him a British thug/crime boss in addition to being a football coach, but that's the magic of Hollywood for you.
How will Northwestern utilize Dan Persa and Kain Colter? Expect to see a similar game plan as the one NU used in the Ticket City Bowl.
Northwestern wins if… It controls the line of scrimmage, controls the Illinois QB and Persa is able to quickly shake off the rust.
Northwestern loses if… Scheelhaase runs wild, the NU defense fails to wrap up tackles and Persa is unable to shake off the rust.
The bottom line It's time for Mike Trumpy to step up as the Wildcats' top running threat and Persa needs to get Jeremy Ebert involved early and often because the Illini safeties are weak. The Wildcats need to come out with a lot of energy and keep the pedal to the metal for four quarters.
Prediction Illinois 35 Northwestern 14
Bonus Question: Who plays the lead role in The Pat Fitzgerald Story? I see Mel Gibson resurrecting his Braveheart role, coming out to midfield with his face painted in purple, turning to the student section and shouting, "Freedom!''
How will Northwestern utilize Dan Persa and Kain Colter? Colter will line up at running back, in the slot, split wide and occasionally at QB. He might even kick if Jeff Budzien misses another gimme. I'm looking forward to a couple Persa-to-Colter-to-Ebert passes, too.
Northwestern wins if… The 2011 NU defense doesn't play like the 2010 NU defense against the Illini, and the 2011 Persa is a reasonable facsimile of the 2010 Persa.
Northwestern loses if… They let Illinois control the ball with its running game and bleed the clock.
The bottom line Let's see, the Wildcats are on the road against an undefeated team that went all medieval on them last season. They're coming off of a dismal performance and have a quarterback that hasn't taken a hit in 11 months. Sounds like just the type of game that NU finds a way to win. Go ahead, call me a homer.
Prediction Northwestern 31 Illinois 27
Bonus Question: Who plays the lead role in The Pat Fitzgerald Story? Gerard Butler. Think King Leonidas, with a neck roll.