BDTH: Iowa-Illinois Preview

House shares his thoughts on Iowa's undefeated season.

Jonathan House, Sports Editor

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What a difference nine months makes. If you told me in January that the Iowa football team would start its season 5-0, would be nationally ranked for the first time since 2010, and would already have reclaimed two trophies, I would have told you you are out of your mind. I also might of added something witty like, “Yeah, and the sun is gonna rise in the west tomorrow, it ain’t happening man, keep dreaming.” All of a sudden, this Iowa team looks completely different from last year’s; and faith seems to be restored in Kirk Ferentz. Much of the Hawkeye faithful, myself included, was doubting Kirk’s abilities to coach a winning team after last year’s Taxslayer Bowl disaster, a game that ended in a 45-28. The worst part is that it was a game that no one cared about, and lucky for Iowa, not that many people watched.

Let me also revisit my predictions from the Wisconsin game. I predicted Wisconsin would win 28-24. I can say that I correctly predicted the margin of victory, just for the wrong team. I also was surprised by how tough points were to come by on Saturday, but that is a tribute to the defenses of both teams. I also said special teams would be a factor, which they were to some extent (both teams missed field goals), but there weren’t any major special teams plays. I also said quarterback play was going to big. It turned out to be huge. Iowa’s pass offense struggled, and C.J. Beathard committed two turnovers. However, Wisconsin QB Joel Stave looked dreadful. Despite passing for 234 yards, Stave committed FOUR turnovers, and had a QB rating of 9.7. If I were a Wisconsin fan, I would be concerned about QB play heading forward. Finally, I said run defense would be big. Iowa is now the only FBS team that hasn’t allowed a rushing touchdown, and it held Wisconsin to under 100 rushing yards. Wisconsin’s rushing defense didn’t perform as well, allowing Iowa to run for over 140 yards.

This weekend, the Hawkeyes return to Kinnick for their homecoming game against Illinois. The Fighting Illini have turned some heads this year, starting the year 4-1, despite having a new head coach. Granted, Illinois beat a 2-3 Nebraska team at home, blew out Kent State, beat FCS Western Illinois, and squeaked out a win (27-25) over Middle Tennessee. So little is known about how good the Fighting Illini really are.

My keys to victory are:

  1. Run the ball. Iowa ranks 43rd in the country in rush offense. Iowa needs to prove to continue to prove it can run the ball, especially as it gets deeper into the B1G season. Leshun Daniels has 226 yards, but no TDs, and hasn’t found the endzone. Daniels looked promising early in the season, but has been hampered by injury. Jordan Canzeri has been the go to back, but his ball security has been a little sketchy. I would like to see Iowa rotate its backs, and win the game with good ole’ fashioned, smash-mouth football.
  2. Turnovers. Turnovers are always big, but they proved to be the deciding factor last week against Wisconsin, as Iowa was plus-two in the turnover margin, and won on the road. If the Hawkeyes limit their mistakes, they should win.
  3. Shutdown Illinois’ passing game. Illinois is tied for 39th in the country in passing offense, with 1222 passing yards this season. Look for the Illini to pass more, as they will likely be without their starting running back, Josh Ferguson. Illinois QB Wes Lunt is completing a decent 58% of his passes, and has eight touchdowns to only two interceptions. It will be an interesting matchup against an Iowa secondary that has looked good so far this season. Iowa cornerback Desmond King now is tied for first in the country with five interceptions.

On a side note, during Iowa’s magical 2009 season, in which the Hawkeyes started 9-0, including multiple last second wins. In 2009, Iowa also played its homecoming game on the exact same day, October 10. The Hawks beat Michigan (then coached by Rich Rodriguez; Michigan has had two coaches since then.) in a night game at Kinnick to start 6-0. 2009 also was the last time that Iowa won the Heartland trophy, when Iowa won it in Camp Randall, as the Hawkeyes did just this past weekend. Coincidence, maybe, maybe not, but this Iowa team is seeming to have more and more in common with that 2009 Iowa team.

 

My prediction: Iowa 24, Illinois 14

Predictions for other big games: Northwestern over Michigan

Utah over Cal

Florida over Mizzou

Clemson over Georgia Tech