The Look Ahead: Iowa (3-2, 0-2) vs. Illinois (2-2, 0-1) (10/07/17 – Kinnick Stadium, Iowa City)

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By John Patchett (   10/05/17

Iowa (3-2, 0-2) hosts Illinois (2-2, 0-1) in a Big Ten West Division game at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Saturday. It’s the Hawkeyes 106th annual Homecoming Game.

The Hawkeyes have defeated Wyoming, Iowa State, and North Texas while losing at home to Penn State and on the road at Michigan State.

Illinois started this season off on the right foot by defeating Ball State and Western Kentucky at home but then lost to South Florida on the road and to Nebraska back in Champaign in its Big Ten opener. The Illini are surrendering an average of 427.5 yards per game to their opponents while gaining only 267.2 — a negative disparity of 160.3 yards per game.

Iowa won last year’s game played in Champaign by a score of 28-0 after a five-year hiatus in the series due to conference expansion and realignment. That game was also Iowa’s last shutout.

Kirk Ferentz is the dean of college head football coaches in his 19th year as the Hawkeyes Head Man. Kirk’s overall record is 150-115 and his record at Iowa is 138-94. The 138 overall wins and 82 Big Ten wins ranks sixth among B1G coaches and second all-time at Iowa — just 5 wins from tying Hayden Fry as Iowa’s winningest head football coach. Among Big Ten coaches, the only other two who have been at their schools for ten seasons or more are Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald (11) and Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio (10).

Illini Head Coach Lovie Smith is in his second season with Illinois — his record is 5-11. He previously was a head coach in the NFL with the Chicago Bears and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

These key questions come to mind: 1) After two tough losses, what is the mindset of Iowa’s players coming into this game? 2) Is it possible, despite the 0-2 start in conference play, for the Hawkeyes to take this game for granted given how hapless the Illini are? 3) Will the change at starting quarterback for Illinois be the spark that the Illini need to get things moving in the right direction again?

Game Notes

Iowa has a 57-43-5 record in Homecoming Games, has won five of its last seven including 29-20 over Illinois in 2015. Overall the Hawkeyes are 6-5-2 against Illinois on Homecoming. Iowa is 17-5 on Homecoming since 1995 and 13-4 since 2000 including seven in a row from 2000-2006. Under Head Coach Kirk Ferentz, the Hawkeyes are 13-5 in homecoming contests.

Saturday’s game will be the 73rd time Iowa and Illinois have faced off on the gridiron. The Illini lead the all-time series 38-32-1 but Iowa has won 11 of the last 14, eight of the last nine, and three in a row. The Hawkeyes are just 17-18-2 vs. Illinois at Kinnick Stadium but they’ve won the last four at home. The time Illinois won in Iowa City was 1999 – Ferentz’s first year as Iowa Head Coach.

The Fighting Illini are one of the youngest teams in the FBS this season. They have started more true freshmen (11) than any team in the nation, 19 true freshmen have seen game action, and they have had 19 first-time starters in their first four games which is tied for second-most nationally. There are 101 players in total on the Illinois roster but just nine seniors and 16 juniors — on the other hand there are 76 underclassmen including 22 sophomores and 54 freshmen (36 true freshmen and 18 RS freshmen). 41 players are newcomers to the roster.

The Iowa – Illinois game will be televised by the Big Ten Network with announcers Brandon Gaudin and Glen Mason. As usual it will be broadcast on the Hawkeye Radio Network with Gary Dolphin and Ed Podolak. The game will also be on satellite radio: XM Channel 195 and Sirius Channel 135.

Depth Chart Update

There were no changes on Iowa’s Depth Chart from the Michigan State game – not even at punter (have to think that one’s coming and probably this weekend).

DB Manny Rugamba hasn’t practiced this week so Ferentz said his back-up Michael Ojemudia would get the start again. Kirk also said that Safety Brandon Snyder has been cleared to play and will likely see action this Saturday – after injuring his ACL in the Spring. Snyder’s return could significantly bolster Iowa’s play at the safety position, teaming with new starter Amani Hooker.

The big change for Illinois is at Quarterback where Jeff George, Jr., is getting the start over Chayce Crouch who was demoted to number three after the loss to Nebraska.

Iowa Offense vs. Illinois Defense

Iowa’s Offense at Michigan State bordered on non-existent and the team finished with just 19 yards net rushing — a huge problem for the Hawkeyes but one that should be solved (at least temporarily) by playing the Illini Defense. Iowa also needs to get off to a much faster start offensively compared to the last two games.

Illinois is giving up an average of 179.5 rushing yards and 248 passing yards per game and opponents are scoring an average of 25.8 points per game. On the other hand, the Illini have forced seven fumbles this season, including four by Nebraska last week in Champaign. Illinois is fourth in the Big Ten with 2.5 sacks per game.

QB Nate Stanley is still sitting on 12 touchdown passes after getting none at Michigan State. That is still good enough to be tied for second in the Big Ten and 10th in the nation. All 12 of those TD passes came after he tossed his only pick on his third pass attempt this season against Wyoming. In the fourth quarter plus overtime Stanley’s passing efficiency is a terrific 175.2: 21 completions on 35 attempts for 323 yards and four TDs (and of course no picks).

RB Akrum Wadley leads the Hawkeyes in rushing with 368 yards and receiving with 244 yards. His 2131 career rushing yards is 13th all-time in program history and just 98 yards from passing Shonn Greene and moving into the top 10.

Wadley says the plan for the Illinois game is to use Red Shirt Freshman Toren Young and True Freshman Ivory Kelly-Martin more this week and he welcomes the help. Both Young and Kelly-Martin performed well in the win over North Texas.

WR Matt VandeBerg has 119 career receptions — just seven from moving into the top 10 in Iowa history — which would tie him with former Tight End Marv Cook at 126.

Iowa’s offensive line — expected to be a team strength coming into this season — is having significant issues both in pass protection and run blocking. There have been injuries, including nagging ones, that have caused some shuffling that has resulted in some linemen not playing their positions of strength (think Sean Welsh for example). Whatever the case or the cause, the line needs to gel and fast or the season is going to get very long for Stanley and Wadley among others.

Illinois Junior Linebacker Del’Shawn Phillips in in his first season with Illinois after transferring from junior college and ranks second in the Big Ten (20th FBS) with 9.8 tackles per game. Linebacker Tre Watson is second with 7.8 tackles per game. Those numbers rank second and ninth respectively in the B1G.

Iowa Defense vs. Illinois Offense

The Illini’s new starting quarterback has a familiar name: Jeff George, Jr., the son of former Illinois star QB Jeff George, Sr. George replaces the dual-threat Chayce Crouch who started the first four games and is the team’s number two leading rusher, had completed 53.2% of his passes for 427 yards, but just one passing TD against four interceptions. Crouch is 3-2 as a starter

George started four games in 2016 and has seen action in just one game this year vs. South Florida when he went 12 of 22 for 211 yards, one TD, and two picks. George is more of a true drop-back pocket passer.

Illinois has two decent running backs in Mike Epstein and Kendrick Foster — and two solid receivers in Mike Dudek and Malik Turner. Epstein is tied for fourth in the nation among true freshman with four TDs and is averaging 65.8 rushing yards per game — while Foster led the Illini with 720 rushing yards and nine touchdowns last season. Dudek is back after missing the last two seasons with knee injuries and leads the team in receptions with 16 for 195 yards. Turner was an All-Big Ten Honorable Mention last year.

The Illini have yet to lose a fumble through their first four games — the only other team in the Big Ten with that distinction is Maryland.

LB Josey Jewell leads the Big Ten and ranks third nationally with 60 total tackles (second place in the B1G has just 39 tackles). Jewell has 32 tackles over the last two games. He is the only Big Ten player with at least 40 tackles — and his 8.5 TFL leads the conference. Jewell has 361 career tackles which ties him for eighth all time with Tom Rusk.

Iowa’s trio of starting linebackers — Jewell, Ben Niemann, and Bo Bower — have combined for 99 career starts and are ranked first, second, and third in tackles for Iowa. However, against Michigan State, Jewell accounted for 16 tackles while the other linebackers combined had less than half that amount. It will be better for Iowa if that disparity is much smaller going forward.

Iowa has three players ranked in the top ten in sacks in the conference: DE Anthony Nelson is tied for third with four sacks while DE A.J. Epenesa and Jewell are tied for eighth with 2.5 sacks apiece.

DB Josh Jackson is tied for the B1G lead in passes defended (10) and interceptions (2) and he ranks second in passes broken up (8). Amani Hooker will be making just his third start at Free Safety — he has 21 tackles so far this season which ranks sixth on the team.

Special Teams

Inconsistency has turned into mediocre for Iowa’s punting game with first year starter Colton Rastetter. His poor performance in East Lansing gave the Spartans excellent field position too many times and placed Iowa’s Defense in a hole. There’s a very good possibility that True Freshman Ryan Gersonde will get the start Saturday against Illinois.

Place Kicker Miguel Recinos continues to turn in solid performances including on kickoffs.

Ivory Kelly-Martin shows promise on kickoff returns since taking over that duty from Akrum Wadley, and Josh Jackson has been steady and shows promise on punt returns despite a couple of miscues in East Lansing.

Illini specialists include 6’6” freshman punter from Australia – Blake Hayes and Jr. Place Kicker Chase McLaughlin who is 17-23 kicking field goals in his career and 30-30 in PATs.

Mike Dudek is the punt returner averaging 13.8 yards per return.

The Illini have three blocked kicks already this season (two field goals and one PAT) — that leads the nation in blocked kicks. Illinois is also third in the B1G and 13th in the FBS is kickoff return defense with an average of just 15.71 yards per return.


Six Big Ten games will be played this weekend. Of special note are Minnesota at Purdue (Gophers can’t afford another B1G loss this early in the season), Wisconsin at Nebraska (see the Minnesota comment), and the premier matchup Michigan State at Michigan in the first ever night game of that in-state series.

The conference currently has three teams that rank among the top 25 in both scoring offense and scoring defense: Ohio State, Penn State, and Wisconsin. An additional three schools are in the top 25 on total defense: Michigan, Michigan State, and Minnesota.

Last week’s notable results: Nebraska bouncing back to win at Illinois 28-6 despite turnover issues and Wisconsin with a West Division win over Northwestern.

The Look Back: Michigan State 17 – Iowa 10 (09/30/17 – Spartan Stadium)

The most stunning stat: 19 net yards rushing for Iowa. [231 yards of total offense.]

Most costly plays: Iowa’s two fumbles (QB Nate Stanley, WR Brandon Smith).

Most troubling performance #1: P Colten Rastetter.

Most troubling performance #2: Iowa’s running game.

Grades: Offense D+ — Defense B — Special Teams C- — OC Brian Ferentz D+ — DC Phil Parker B — HC Kirk Ferentz P (Pass/Fail).

Prefense Defensive Player of the Week Again it’s easy: LB Josey Jewell. But for Iowa’s sake, it would be nice if it that wealth could get spread around a bit going forward. Prefense Hand Sanitizer and Surface Protectant – Remember, the best defense is Prefense.

T&K Roofing & Sheet Metal Coach of the Week An easy choice again this week: Defensive Coordinator Phil Parker – for constructing the Defense that kept the Hawkeyes in this game until the end. T&K Roofing & Sheet Metal – Building Strong, Building Safe Since 1962.