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Overtime: A Look Back at the Iowa Hawkeyes 45-16 Win Over Illinois

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By Jack Brandsgard (   10/08/17

After a sloppy first half, the Iowa Hawkeyes got back on track against the Illinois Fighting Illini with a 45-16 victory.

The conditions played a factor early on as the first two drives of the game ended in fumbles recovered by the defense. Anthony Nelson continued his hot play as of late by starting the game with a strip-sack of Illinois’ Jeff George Jr. The momentum was killed just three plays later when freshman Ivory Kelly-Martin coughed the ball back over to the Illini.

Illinois took advantage with a 10-play, 59-yard drive to take a 3-0 lead early. To Iowa’s credit, they responded with an 11-play, 75-yard touchdown drive. Then Ole Riverboat Kirk Ferentz decided to roll the dice with an onside kick in the first quarter.

It was risky but reasonable after a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty following Nick Easley’s touchdown grab. New Kirk’s aggression backfired later in the drive, however, after Akrum Wadley was stuffed on fourth and one from Illinois’ 14-yard line. I thought it was the right call again. In hindsight, it’s easy to say Ferentz should’ve taken the three points and given his team a seven-point lead. But Iowa had one yard to gain and was handing it to their best playmaker behind a nationally-touted line. More often than not, the Hawkeyes convert that.

After an Amani Hooker interception in the endzone, Iowa marched down the field for a field goal to take a 10-3 lead. Illinois quickly knotted the game at 10 just a few plays later. The ease with which the Illini moved the ball against Iowa in the first half was concerning. Illinois averages 303 yards per game but racked up 240 in the first half against the Hawkeyes.

A bad Nate Stanley interception and an Illinois field goal made the score 13-10 Illini with time wasting away in a bad first half for the Hawkeyes. The team needed life. Amani Hooker zapped a surge of energy into Kinnick after scampering to convert on a fake punt dialed up by Riverboat Kirk Ferentz.

Stanley found Wadley for a touchdown to give Iowa a 17-13 lead going into the break, but the half felt discouraging. Should Ferentz really have to dial up an onside kick and a fake punt to get his team going at home against an in-conference border opponent? Slow starts have seemingly always plagued Iowa, and this year is no different. The Hawkeyes must come out with more energy to start games in the back half of the season.

Whatever the message was at halftime, Iowa was a different team in the latter 30 minutes.

The play of the game came when Brandon Snyder, in his first game back from tearing his ACL six months ago, took an errant Jeff George Jr. pass 89 yards the other way for a pick-six. The play was a huge momentum swing and finally gave the Hawkeyes and the fans in the stands something to go crazy about. From the moment Snyder got his hands on that pass forward, Iowa outscored Illinois 28-3. Sometimes one play from one guy is all it takes, and Brandon Snyder came through when Iowa needed it.

Speaking of the safeties, I think Iowa has finally figured out their two starters to anchor the secondary. To me, Snyder and Hooker are clearly the Hawkeyes’ two best options at safety in terms of athleticism, tackling, and playmaking ability, so I’m glad to see them finally be able to play with each other.

In last week’s Overtime piece, I wrote about how it should be Iowa’s goal to get Akrum Wadley 200 yards rushing against Illinois. Wadley ended up carrying 23 times for 115 yards and one touchdown while also catching two passes for 14 yards and a touchdown. 25 touches is about perfect for Wadley, and a productive day like this should boost his morale moving into the dog days of the Big Ten schedule.

Ryan Gersonde saw his first action as a Hawkeye, getting the punting nod over the incumbent Colten Rastetter. Punts of 38, 32, and 43 yards don’t jump off the stat sheet, but the true freshman made his debut on a day where the conditions weren’t favorable for specialists. Let’s give Gersonde more time before we jump to conclusions.

Tristan Wirfs also made his first start as a Hawkeye. People within the program have been high on Wirfs since he first stepped on campus, and the Mount Vernon native became the first true freshman under Kirk Ferentz to start a game at tackle. Wirfs seems to be the latest in a long line of talented Iowa offensive linemen.