I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling better about this team now than at this time last week; funny how a walk-off win against the #3 team changes things. It’s hard not to have more trust in the defense after a performance like that, plus I’m hopeful that the coaches have finally figured out that there needs to be some measure of creativity in the offense if this group is going to reliably move the ball.
What’s clear to me is that this team can’t go back to approaching each game as business as usual. At this point we need to see the energy and enthusiasm that was so evident last week to show up in each of the remaining games. If that level of intensity is the norm in the last three (counting a bowl invite) games, the Hawkeyes have a very real opportunity to change the taste this season will leave in fans mouths.
That all starts tomorrow against Illinois, a team struggling in its first year under Lovie Smith. Make no mistake, though, the Illini have enough talent on the roster to beat a complacent Iowa team—here’s your keys for the Hawkeyes to avoid such a letdown.
Avoid the trap game
This one checks all of the boxes for a classic trap game: the Hawkeyes are coming off of an emotional upset of Michigan last week, Illinois will be playing with nothing to lose on senior day, and there’s a rivalry game looming on Black Friday for Iowa. All of that adds up to me being more anxious about this game than I realize I reasonably should be. However, the good vibes following the Michigan can easily be tarnished by a disappointing performance in Champaign; none of us want that.
Win in the trenches
Overall the Illini aren’t a great football team, but they do boast one of the conferences better defensive lines. Defensive end Carroll Phillips leads the Big Ten in sacks and TFLs, and is joined by two other impact players in tackle Chunky Clements and end Dwaune Smoot.
This will be a tough test for an Iowa offensive line that has been hampered by injury all season and will probably still be without Cole Croston. Last week the Hawkeyes helped out the line against an impressive Wolverine defense by utilizing blocking tight ends (oh hey Peter Pekar and Nate Wieting) and fullbacks more frequently, it’ll be interesting to see the coaching staff sticks to that gameplan tomorrow against the Illini.
On the flip side, although quarterback Wes Lunt should be back from injury, Illinois’s best chance offensively is through its running game. The Illini have two solid backs in Kendrick Foster and Reggie Corbin who can cause fits for opposing defenses. The Hawkeye front seven that stood so stout against Michigan will need to have a similarly strong performance tomorrow in order to pull out a victory.
Keep Feeding Wadley
It was clear to everyone watching last week that Akrum Wadley is this offense’s best chance at an explosive play. Wadley’s continued success on first down gave the Hawkeyes some play calling flexibility and his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield allowed Greg Davis and company to exploit mismatches against the Michigan linebackers. I’d like to see the coaches continuing to come up with more ways to get Wadley the ball—it will only help the Hawks going forward.
As I said, Illinois has generally poor football playing abilities (they’re 3-9 for a reason), but the Iowa fan in me says that this game will be closer and more stressful than it should be. I think the Hawkeyes eventually win, I don’t see it being easy though.
Iowa 23, Illinois 14