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KEYS TO THE GAME IN REVIEW: IOWA VS ILLINOIS

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Josey Jewell lives on in the nightmares of Illinois fans.

NCAA Football: Iowa at Illinois Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

Well, that game wasn’t pretty at all (except the weather, I kind of loved that part). I doubt many people expected much else from a late season road game against an objectively terrible Illinois team, though, and the Hawkeyes are now sitting at 7-4 with an opportunity to bring home another trophy looming. Let’s check out how our keys fared this weekend (hint: “meh” sums it up well).

Avoid the trap game

Fortunately for the Hawkeyes, Illinois wasn’t good enough to take advantage of an Iowa offense that seemed to sleepwalk through the first half. It was expected given the conditions of the game, but Iowa’s total inability to move the ball through the air cropped up again throughout this game; I have a feeling the Hawkeyes will need to be more balanced offensively if they’re going to pull off a win against Nebraska on Friday.

NCAA Football: Iowa at Illinois Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

Win in the trenches

The (extremely talented) Illini defensive line made some plays, but overall the Iowa offensive line imposed its will, especially in the running game and in the latter stages of the game. The line’s success at the point of attack was obviously a huge factor in springing LeShun Daniels and Akrum Wadley for a combined 241 yards and three touchdowns—that level of production will result in a Hawkeye win more often than not.

On the other side, the Iowa defense turned in its second straight dominant performance, holding Illinois to less than 200 total yards and blanking them on the scoreboard. Jaleel Johnson continued to be a force in the middle of the defense and Josey Jewell was flying to the ball. The renewed passion and swagger the defense has played with recently is great to see, especially after so many of us left this team for dead after the debacle in Happy Valley.

NCAA Football: Iowa at Illinois Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

Keep feeding Wadley

The Hawkeyes didn’t actually do a very good job of this (only 15 touches for Wadley), but it’s hard to be too upset when Daniels is having so much success. I would still argue that the coaches need to continue to develop more ways to get Wadley the ball.

The good news on that front: the staff seems to have (finally) realized that Wadley and Daniels are not mutually exclusive! Seriously, that 50 yard run by Daniels where Wadley was used as a decoy was beautifully drawn up and executed—I want to see more out of that look.

Prediction

I went with a 23-14 win on Friday and clearly didn’t give Iowa’s defense enough credit (or gave Illinois too much?). It still remains unwise to pick the Hawks to score more than 30, but a win is indeed a win and, given where we were a few weeks ago, I will not argue with 7-4.

NCAA Football: Iowa at Illinois Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

Looking ahead

Iowa has a chance to complete a highly improbably three game winning streak Friday against #18 Nebraska. The Hawks have an opportunity to really alter the perception of their season with a win—8-4 sounds a lot better than 7-5, especially to bowl committees—and would enter bowl prep with a whole metric crap ton of momentum.

Let’s get way ahead of ourselves and say, hypothetically, that Iowa takes down Nebraska and wins a bowl game against a mid-tier SEC team (or something, who cares?). Sitting at 9-4—and probably ranked—how would we feel about this season in hindsight? I, personally, would like that just fine.

And with that said, bring on the Bugeaters.