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After facing four teams that passed more than they ran, Illini linebacker Ian Thomas says he’s ready for a challenge that’s “our type of game.”

And he’s glad Persa will be there.

“I was kind of hoping he would, seeing as he was out last year,” Thomas said. “Just makes it a more interesting game.”

A bigger question is whether Northwestern can stop Illinois’ ground game.

Leshoure’s 330 yards last November was a school record and cast the national spotlight on him like never before. He left a year early for the NFL.

“They ran a couple of variations in formation last year and we just did a bad job at coaching our guys,” Fitzgerald said. “We said that after the game.”

There’s no Leshoure this year, just a trio of backs _ Justin Ford, Troy Pollard and Donovonn Young _ who combine with quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase for 241.8 yards a game.

Scheelhaase has been limited by a minor shoulder injury that Petrino said persuaded him to stay away from the quarterback’s favored option for two quarters last week against Western Michigan. But when the Illini turned to the option after halftime, they piled up yards and drained the clock.

“(If) you watched the game on Saturday, Western did a nice job, and then they went to the option game,” Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald tried to tamp down talk this week about any nasty feelings between the schools, but only after making a crack of his own about the slogan.

“If I’m not mistaken, it’s trademarked for Northwestern,” he joked, suggesting Wilson might be guilty of trademark infringement.

After he heard from enough of his teammates about it, even out-of-stater Evan Wilson sounded like he could get used to a little more serious edge to this Illini-Wildcat rivalry.

“I don’t care for them too much,” he said, “but I love playing them.”