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H.A.W.K.E.Y.E.S. Predicts: Illinois

Lovie Smith wants to kill our buzz. Can he? The computer tells all.

Hawk for Nerds
Is Iowa riding high after Saturday’s insanity?

Wow. Just wow. Keith Duncan’s kick is still on replay in my mind. I re-watched the whole game several times over. I can’t find a critical play where Iowa did not step up. Don’t get me wrong, the offense is still a disaster due to the lack of playmakers at receiver and tight end. But, that defense y’all!

It’s time to come back to reality. Which is where? It’s very hard to square Iowa’s performance against Michigan with how it has played since week 3 of the season. Let’s make an assumption: nothing major has changed at Iowa in the last two weeks and the team we saw against PSU was essentially the same one we saw against Michigan. I think this is a somewhat fair assumption, despite some changes to corner and safety on the two-deeps, but Iowa’s offense looked nearly identical from a personnel perspective. This means there are three possibilities for what happened/will happen in these last few games.

  1. The game against Michigan was a statistical outlier. By random chance, Iowa played as well as it could while Michigan played its worst game of the year and Iowa got lucky with a 1-in-100 chance. Expect a reversion to previous production.
  2. The game against Michigan represented a regression toward the mean. Iowa has been underperforming since losing to NDSU and beating Michigan was a game akin to Iowa State. The loss to Wisconsin is probably the most accurate depiction of this team’s abilities and talent level.
  3. This represents a new trend, and Iowa will only be getting better from here on out. After PSU, something clicked and the Hawks finally found themselves and are now going to get better with each coming week and the Michigan game was the start.

Option one is going to be a favorite among those who are still frustrated with Ferentz and Co., and they will argue that one good win doesn’t mean the rest of the season can be forgotten. And there is truth to that. The first nine games, the team brought us to 5-4, which is not a great record. But it fails to account for what we saw against ISU or for how close we actually played Wisconsin, who is seventh in the current CFP rankings. I don’t think the evidence supports treating the Michigan game like a one-off random event.

The third option is the most hopeful of the three. Essentially, this viewpoint sees the Penn State game as the statistical blip, and instead sees Iowa improving steadily following the loss to Northwestern. However, it fails to account for how Iowa’s wins have been underwhelming.

This leaves only the second option, that Iowa was a 7-9 win team this season, with the ability to punch above their weight class but still in danger of slipping against lesser teams if the failed to execute. And, in fact, that has been the story all season. More penalties than usual (many of the avoidable variety, like false starts) indicated that the team was making mental mistakes, which kept games like Rutgers closer than they should have been. And more troubling, these mistakes likely took some winnable games like NDSU, Northwestern and Wisconsin and solidified them as losses. Frustrating, certainly. But it also gives us some hope, in that we see if Iowa cleans up their play and limits mental mistakes, they have a chance to go punch for punch with almost anybody in the country. The metrics from the Michigan game support that theory.

Predicted Actual
Iowa Michigan Iowa Michigan
Passing Yards 116.2 267.0 66 103
Rushing Yards 79.9 212.5 164 98
Turnovers 0.8 0.5 1 2
Penalties 5.5 2.5 3 5
Offensive Plays 50.9 70.5 68 61
First Downs 10.7 24.5 17 14
Score 8 36 14 13

The Hawks were, by no stretch of the imagination, an offensive force to be reckoned with on Saturday. They failed to even break 250 yards of total offense (230) and the 66 yards passing is tied for the third fewest since 2002. Interestingly enough, since 2002 Iowa is 5-1 when passing for fewer than 75 yards. I think it’s safe to say that almost nobody saw this outcome.

Iowa limited turnovers against a very strong Michigan defense, protected Beathard quite well, and committed a season-low 3 penalties. H.A.W.K.E.Y.E.S. whiffed here, predicting a four-touchdown stomping of the Hawkeyes rather than the one-point, last minute, defensive thriller we got. No complaints. I’ll gladly chalk up a loss for the computer this week if it means that we upset Jim Harbaugh, once again, in historic Kinnick Stadium. The Hawks and the computer now both sit at 6-4 on the season. And I feel really bad for Indiana, who is going to receive the full force of Jim Harbaugh’s fierce retribution this weekend.

So, there is a bit of explaining to do here. My immediate response to Iowa’s win was to flip my coffee table over in excitement. The second was to worry that the H.A.W.K.E.Y.E.S. model was a total failure. Rest assured, it is not. The computer has only gotten better as the season has progressed, not just in terms of predicting outcomes but also predicting the key metrics and inputs. The model’s inability to accurately predict the Michigan game is neither surprising nor worrisome. This was a week where three of the top four teams in the country lost, and the two who lost to unranked teams are still in the top four. Life is crazy and college football is even more so on any given week. With that out of the way, what does the computer say will happen with Illinois?

Iowa Illinois
Passing Yards 151.1 158.1
Rushing Yards 202.9 156.8
Turnovers 0.7 1.4
Penalties 5.1 6.7
Offensive Plays 66.2 56.6
First Downs 19.2 14.5
Score 25 19
Confidence 76%

This week, Iowa receives a big boost from Illinois’ complete disaster of a defense. So far this season, Illinois holds teams to 20 fewer passing yards on average. But this is only because teams don’t have to pass against the Illini as they allow teams to rush for nearly 50 yards over their season average. In short, Akrum Wadley should have a field day against Illinois. I would honestly not be surprised if he breaks 200 yards on his own with an average yards per carry of 7+.

Where I do think the computer has it wrong is in predicting a balanced Illinois attack. I’d say it’s more likely that the Illini will need to go to the air early and often, making this game look more like Iowa’s outing against Purdue. With a veteran QB on a team that often has quality athletes, they will look to test Iowa’s youth in the secondary. Expect Illinois to post 200+ yards through the air, but under 110 on the ground. H.A.W.K.E.Y.E.S. is calling for Iowa to win 25-19, but I foresee this game looking more like a blowout with Iowa winning along the lines of 38-15. Let me know your predictions below in the comments, along with all of your awesome gifs and memes from Iowa’s win over Michigan.