It's never easy, right?
Iowa dominated the game -- but not the scoreboard -- in the first half, but Illinois came out with an up-tempo attack that gave Iowa some real problems in the second half. Iowa never relinquished the lead, though, and they had perfect counterpunches to all of Illinois' punches after the break. When Illinois put together a good drive that resulted in a field goal that cut Iowa's lead to just 16-13, Iowa responded with a 75-yard Jordan Canzeri touchdown run to push the lead to 23-13. And when Illinois broke Geronimo Allison loose for a big 53-yard touchdown reception that chopped Iowa's lead to 23-20, Iowa responded with what will be forever remembered as the Jordan Canzeri Drive. On a drive where Iowa badly needed to a) work the clock, b) give the defense a rest, and c) hopefully get some more points, Canzeri carried the ball eleven straight times for 59 yards. Iowa got stopped short of the end zone and settled for a 34-yard Marshall Koehn field goal, but that drive was the game -- and it was all about Canzeri and the offensive line, who stepped up in a big way and opened big holes for Canzeri to motor down the field.
So yeah: Jordan Canzeri. JORDAN FREAKIN' CANZERI. He carried the ball 43 (!!!) times for 256 yards and one touchdown -- and tacked on two receptions for 15 yards, including a 17-yard screen pass that gave Iowa a lead they would never give up. The 43 carries was the most by an Iowa running back -- ever. The 256 yards was the third-most rushing yards for an Iowa running back, behind Tavian Banks' 314 yards against Tulsa and Ed Podolak's 286 yards against Northwestern. But Canzeri's performance might have been the best of the bunch, given the quality of the opponent (Illinois was 33rd in the nation, giving up 126 rushing yards per game before today) and just how important all those yards were. Iowa needed damn near all of those yards to come away with a win. All hail Canzeri. We're gonna be watching this play a lot, I'm guessing:
Canzeri is rightfully the lead story from today's game and the thing about it that we'll remember the most, but the sub-header has to be injuries. Iowa entered the game down Tevaun Smith (out until 10/31 with a knee injury), Boone Myers (out with a stinger), and LeShun Daniels, Jr. (out with a high ankle sprain). Their injury situation got worse -- much worse -- during the game. Guard Jordan Walsh missed part of the game with an injury, although he did return. Ike Boettger, Iowa's starting right tackle, suffered a leg injury and didn't return. The worst injury of all appeared to be one suffered by Drew Ott on a non-contact play, though -- he came up short, landed awkwardly, and was on crutches on the sideline with a big bag of ice wrapped around his knee. There hasn't been any word yet about the nature of his injury, but it didn't look good at all.
Iowa's defense had a very up-and-down game, sacking Illinois QB Wes Lunt times (he had only been sacked four times all year entering today's game and Iowa put him down with three sacks. But when they didn't get to Lunt he had a lot of success against Iowa: 25/42 for 317 yards and a touchdown. Iowa gave up a lot of yards to Illinois, but they also stiffened and held them to field goals on two of those drives. They also forced two key turnovers in the second half, an interception and a fumble recovery, the latter of which basically locked up the win for Iowa Lunt's favorite target was (unsurprisingly) Geronimo Allison, who entered the game with big numbers (32 receptions, 453 yards, 2 TD) and did nothing to hurt those today: 8 receptions, 145 yards, 1 TD. (He also threw an interception on a hilariously ill-advised trick play.) Those numbers actually undersell his day, too, since they don't account for the multiple penalties that he drew from Iowa defenders. Greg Mabin took most of the abuse in the passing game (he had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day on the whole, although he did get a measure of redemption when he hauled in an interception off Allison's aforementioned trick play pass), but King also got torched on Allison's 53-yard touchdown catch-and-run. Weird day for Iowa's defense overall.
Speaking of big days for wide receivers... welcome to the show, Jerminic Smith! He and Beathard weren't able to get on the same page at Wisconsin last week, but Smith made the most of his first start in Kinnick Stadium, with 4 catches for 118 yards, including some very impressive grabs. The only thing that would have made the day better was if he and Beathard had been able to hook up for a touchdown right before halftime -- Smith got his hands on it, but couldn't haul it in. Beathard's pass was a bit too hard and just behind Smith.
That play was one of many that flashed through my eyes during the nerve-racking second half when Iowa just couldn't pull away from Illinois. Iowa left a lot of points on the field in the the first half -- Marshall Koehn's missed extra point (that loomed especially large when the score was just 26-20 and Illinois had the ball and a chance to drive for a game-winning score), the incomplete pass on 4th and goal from the Illinois 1 (eschewing a likely field goal), and the just-missed touchdown between Beathard and Smith right before halftime. Iowa could have easily been up at least 24-7 at halftime, which may have made the second half a far more relaxing endeavor.
Still: Iowa prevailed. SIX AND OH. SIX AND OH. SIX AND OH.
Iowa's off to their best start since... you don't need me to tell you, right? Nor do you need me to remind you how that season ended. Six wins also means that Iowa is bowl eligible... but our ambitions for this season are now a lot higher than just making a bowl game. Keep flying high, Hawks -- let's see where this ride takes us.
Wins over Illinois aren't usually causes to dance, but when Jordan Canzeri has one of the best games ever by an Iowa running back and Iowa improves to 6-0? Yeah, we'd say that qualifies.
Big H/T to Matt Benson (@mbenson6) for some research help with this post, too! Thanks!