By Jack Brandsgard (firstname.lastname@example.org) 11/19/18
Iowa emphatically snapped its three-game losing streak with an historic 63-0 crushing of Illinois on Saturday. It is the largest margin of victory under Kirk Ferentz and also ties the worst loss in Illinois history. Interestingly, the Illini lost 63-0 to Chicago exactly 112 years from Saturday.
After much scrutiny, the coaching staff put Noah Fant on the field for Iowa’s first 25 snaps. He came out at that point for a breather after a 37-yard catch. Fant finished with three catches for 54 yards and a touchdown. TJ Hockenson, Iowa’s other Mackey Award semifinalist, hauled in two catches, both of which were touchdowns. The Hawkeyes are at their best when they target these two tight ends.
Nate Stanley shook off an interception on his first pass of the game to finish 13-of-21 for 178 yards and three touchdowns. He looked more comfortable in the pocket and also benefitted from Iowa’s newfound run game.
Mekhi Sargent became the first Hawkeye to crack the 100-yard barrier on the ground, finishing with 121 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries. Iowa’s run game is the bedrock of its offensive attack and unlocks the passing game, specifically the play-action passes Stanley is successful with.
Both prongs of the offense came together to score the most points in the Ferentz era. Iowa also set a school record for most points scored on the road in a season by averaging 42.8 points in five away games.
Iowa’s defense was just as dominant. The unit recorded its second shutout of the Big Ten season and was led by AJ Epenesa. The sophomore from Illinois particularly dominated in two-minute stretch in the second quarter during which he forced a fumble, recovered a fumble, scored his first career touchdown, recorded a sack, and blocked a punt.
Epenesa is tied for second in the Big Ten in sacks, and Anthony Nelson is tied for sixth. The two are primary reasons Iowa has recorded a sack in 39-straight games, the longest active streak in the FBS.
Amani Hooker snared his fourth interception of the season, tying him with Geno Stone for most on the team and moving him into a tie for second-most in the Big Ten. Hooker continues to display his ball skills and versatility on a weekly basis. He’s a pro.
Kyle Groeneweg starred on special teams by returning a punt 61 yards for a touchdown. It was Iowa’s first punt return touchdown since Riley McCarron returned one at Illinois in 2016. All three phases clicked to dominate the Illini.
Iowa will need another impressive performance on Friday against a Nebraska team that has seemingly found its footing since a horrific start. Kickoff is slated for 11:00.