Opponent: Illinois Fighting Illini (4-1, 1-0 B1G West, receiving votes in AP & Coaches Polls)
Saturday, October 10, 11 a.m., Kinnick Stadium
Kickoff weather: 59 degrees, clear, with temperatures approaching 70 during the game.
White Sox Fan Who Has To Deal With Cubs Celebration: Hey, congratulations guys. Good win for you. Good win for the city. Guess I'd better head on home, call it a night.
WHEN ILLINOIS HAS THE BALL
Wes Lunt has had a better time under center or the Illini than most FBS transfer QBs, and for that Bill Cubit (offensive coordinator and now interim head coach) deserves a lot of credit. Illinois' season looked imperiled from the get-go when all-freshman-everything WR Mikey Dudek tore his ACL in April, then head coach Tim Beckman had the temerity to not get fired until the worst possible time, right before the season started.
And yet Illinois is in pretty decent shape. The Illini are 4-1, having just beaten Nebraska 14-13 and boasting an offense that has averaged right around 400 yards per game. Lunt's efficiency rating isn't spectacular by any stretch at 118.5 (currently 96th in the nation) but the Illinois passing game is predicated on short, quick throws instead of logging huge chunks of yards. So while the yards per pass (a crucial factor in efficiency ratings) are a hair under 5.8, it's also noteworthy that Lunt has only thrown two interceptions in 191 attempts. And yet Lunt only completes 58% of his passes, so Iowa should expect plenty of opportunities to get the Illinois offense off the field.
Tailback Josh Ferguson is likely out for the Iowa game and perhaps beyond with a shoulder injury, but successful rushing attacks are about so much more than just the guy with the ball, and Illinois has averaged over four yards per carry even without Ferguson on the field. Freshman RB Ke'Shawn Vaughn—his name rhymes, so he has to be good—will be the primary weapon in the rushing game, though Cubit has already said Vaughn can't handle 30 rushes per game. Henry Enyenihi will also see some action, but he hasn't been great thus far with only 3.2 yards per carry.
When Lunt is throwing, he's usually looking for Geronimo Allison, another phenomenal name. Allison leads the team with 32 catches and is more than doubling up the nearest receiver in yards; Allison's already at 453 yards, and nobody else has even hit 200. That means we'll be seeing plenty of Desmond King on Allison, who's a big target at 6'4" and 200 pounds, and that should be plenty of fun. Marchie Murdock and Desmond Cain are more short-yardage targets, and they'll likely be driving Iowa's linebackers crazy unless Phil Parker switches to nickel packages early and often against the Illinois spread.
We've seen Iowa happy to take away big plays and force teams to execute underneath in order to keep the chains moving, and that has been a generally successful strategy thus far.
White Sox Fan Who Has To Deal With Cubs Celebration: Oh awesome, you guys are clogging every single street. That helps. No I'm not going to high-five you, bro, do you see a damn Cubs hat on me. You people are the worst. I'm just trying to get home.
Just be patient, dude. It's okay.
White Sox Fan Who Has To Deal With Cubs Celebration: I just saw a guy jump-kick a garbage can and concuss himself in the process.
Okay, yeah, that's bad.
White Sox Fan Who Has To Deal With Cubs Celebration: Yeah but it's sort of the highlight of my day now.
WHEN IOWA HAS THE BALL
Illinois has been a bit of an enigma on defense, holding teams to 10.25 points per game in its four victories but getting incinerated in a 48-14 Week 3 loss to North Carolina. Both teams' defenses have put up similar numbers this season, with Iowa ceding 299.8 yards per game and Illinois at 303.4. The one stat that jumps out for the Illini is third down conversions, with Illinois allowing just 21.8%—fourth-best in the nation. That means C.J. Beathard will need Matt VandeBerg to save the day a few more times like he did at Wisconsin last week; now that Tevaun Smith is out for a prolonged amount of time, VandeBerg's easily the most reliable option among the receivers.
Safety Clayton Fejedelem has been a revelation since joining the team as a walk-on transfer from NAIA St. Xavier three years ago (he's on scholarship now) and he leads the team in tackles by a wide margin. He also picked off Tommy Armstrong in the second half of the Illini's upset victory, and all told he's the emotional engine of the defense. He'll be a heavy factor on Saturday.
Illinois has the No. 19 passing efficiency defense (Wisconsin, who terrorized Beathard and Iowa last Saturday, is No. 21), but that's been largely a factor of the Illini forcing horrible performances from QBs who weren't much good to begin with (Armstrong, in particular, went 10-31 for 105 yards in Nebraska's loss). North Carolina and Middle Tennessee State both threw the ball with relative ease, and Beathard should be able to put together a decent performance this weekend.
White Sox Fan Who Has To Deal With Cubs Celebration: HOW THE HELL ARE THERE THIS MANY OF YOU. It's a freaking Wednesday night! Don't you people have jobs?! I can't even get to the platform of this Red Line, not like it matters because the trains are god damn sardine tins full of you people going god knows where. I didn't know getting to Edgewater would be an act of God Himself.
The luster is fading from Marshall Koehn's aura ever so slightly after The Demon Koehn shanked a chip shot early in Iowa's victory—three points that sure would have been important had Wisconsin found a way into the end zone in the second half. Still, he's one of the best kickers in the Big Ten, if not the nation, and Iowa has a real asset here.
Less stellar is Illinois' kicker Taylor Zalewski, who is 6-for-11 on field goals for the season, including a 2-for-6 mark from 40 yards and beyond. He did nail a 51-yarder that ended up being the game-winner against MTSU, but by and large he's not a long-range weapon.
Speaking of less than stellar, Illinois' punt game is rough. Ryan Frain and David Reisner have combined for under 39 yards per punt, and with touchbacks and return yardage factored in Illinois is dead last in the Big Ten in net punting and 122nd nationwide at 31.2 yards per. Iowa should expect opportunities to gain the upper hand in field position in the punt game on Saturday.
If there's one cause for major concern it's that Illinois has already blocked two punts for touchdowns and must be licking its chops after Pitt ran the "party at the punter" play to great success in Week 3. Iowa's fixing that breakdown but Dillon Kidd should expect heavy pressure when Iowa has to boot it away, especially in situations where the Illini don't have to account for potential trickery.
Other than that, V'Angelo Bentley (again with the great names!) has been a dangerous return man, but nothing that Iowa hasn't seen out of King in practice all season.
White Sox Fan Who Has To Deal With Cubs Celebration: I hope the Cardinals beat you guys. Seriously. NO I'M NOT BITTER. This whole street smells like Axe body spray and Captain Morgan and vomit. I will shove you back if you lay one hand on me. I'm not letting Alex talk me into watching one of these things away from home ever again. Screw this team and screw this city.
Iowa 27, Illinois 10
White Sox Fan Who Has To Deal With Cubs Celebration: Cardinals in 3, all perfect games, and then your stupid franchise folds. Wait, you're asking me about Illinois football? Buddy, I don't care about them and neither does anyone else in this town. Ask someone from down there. Now my cell phone's about to die, can't even tell my wife when I'll be home. This is basically The Purge out here. Thanks for wasting my damn time.