Coming off its dominating shutout of Minnesota Saturday, Northwestern has now won six straight games, its longest win streak in over 20 years.
The last time Northwestern went on such a streak was 1996 when head coach Pat Fitzgerald was a senior linebacker, and the Wildcats won seven in a row to close the season and claim a share of the Big Ten title.
The Wildcats (8-3, 6-2 Big Ten), who came in at No. 22 in Tuesday's College Football Playoff rankings, will seek to match the school's best win streak Saturday as they visit in-state rival Illinois (2-9, 0-9), which has lost nine games in a row.
Fitzgerald attributed much of Northwestern's success the last six games to its defensive intensity, particularly its ability to tackle effectively and consistently.
"The credit goes to (Mike Hankwitz) and the defensive staff for their planning," Fitzgerald said. "We tackle every day. There are certain things that we talk about as a defense every day. One is tackling and the other is creating turnovers. I just think you have to teach the skill of tackling every day. It doesn't mean there has to be contact involved, but you have to teach it every day."
One of the Wildcats' best tacklers this season has been linebacker Nate Hall, who leads the team in tackles for loss with 12.
Hall cautioned against overlooking Illinois despite its nine-game losing streak.
"It's a rivalry game," Hall said. "Illinois is a good team that plays hard. They're going to fight through four quarters, so that's what we're going to do, we're going to go out there and fight like we have been for the last 11 weeks."