Are you still on cloud 9? I know I am. For me, I had some work stuff in Omaha this past week and it was quite a nice feeling walking into the place knowing I wasn’t going to be catching any flack from the Husker brethren there. So, yeah, I’m still pretty happy. Unfortunately, we can’t just end the season on the highest of high notes. Nope, the B1G gods decided we have two more games to play to salvage this mostly-disappointing season.
Fortunately, the powers that be put the Hawkeyes against two border rivals, so there’s definitely still plenty to play for, in addition to just saving the season. For those who grew up in eastern Iowa or if you were a Chicago-transplant to Iowa City, you most likely hate the Illini. For those of us who grew up in western Iowa, you were likely ecstatic when Nebraska was invited to the conference so you could finally play the big red enemy every year. It was a natural rival for us western Iowa Hawkeye fans.
So first up is the Fightin’ Illini on Saturday. Illinois has fallen on hard times since their humiliating 2008 Rose Bowl loss. A couple coaches later, former NFL coach Lovie Smith is now at the helm. Smith seems to be doing some good things in Champaign, but it is going to take some time to rebuild a program as down as Illinois.
Last year, Illinois was a pesky pitstop for the Big Ten West champion Hawks. They challenged Iowa the entire game, pulling to within 3 early in the 4th quarter. Unfortunately for them, Illinois absolutely, positively could not stop the Jordan Canzeri locomotive and Iowa won 29-20. Iowa outgained the Illini by over 100 yards and possessed the ball for 10 more minutes. The win pushed Iowa to 6-0 before their embarrassment of Northwestern the following week.
How did Illinois’ season go? Not good. Illinois finished the season 5-7 and 2-6 in the conference. They mostly beat up on the nonconference cupcakes (oh and beat Nebraska in one of the most hilarious collapses I’ve seen in awhile). Coach Tim Beckman was fired before the season after allegations of player mistreatment. So yeah, it was a season to forget in Illini land.
Who played well for the Fighting Illini? Wes Lunt and Geronimo Allison (awesome name) were a pretty big pain in the ass for the Hawks. Lunt went 25-42 for 317 yards and a TD. Allison had 8 of those receptions for 148 yards and the TD. On defense, lineman Dawuane Smoot had 3 tackles for loss, including a sack.
Who played well for the Hawkeyes? Well when your running back sets a school-record for rushing attempts, you can assume there was a good reason he kept getting the ball. Jordan Canzeri was Illinois’ worst nightmare. #33 had an amazing 43 rushing attempts and gained 256 yards and a TD. He also added 2 receptions, one of which went for a TD. Also of note, this is the game where we got introduced to Jerminic Smith after Tevaun Smith was out with an injury. J-Smitty went for 4 receptions and 118 yards.
Who is returning that gave the Hawkeyes trouble last time? 10th-year senior Wes Lunt is back again to finish his Illini career after injuries have plagued him and probably strained what could have been a decent career. And the aforementioned Smoot leads a pretty solid defensive line. One of the better freshmen RB’s in the conference last year, Ke’Shawn Vaughn, is back. He went for 67 yards and a TD against the Hawks and had over 700 rushing yards in his rookie season.
BONUS Highlights (that defense was nasty):