Just a reminder. I write these in real time. Don’t judge me after the fact for writing what we all were thinking in the moment. Go Hawks!
Happy Homecoming, Iowa. Not only do you get the luxury to play a downtrodden Illinois team that had under 200-yards of offense last week against Nebraska before your bye-week, but you get to play a downtrodden Illinois team that had under 200-yard of offense last week against Nebraska with a new quarterback... IN THE RAIN.
That’s what I wrote right after Jeff George Jr. fumbled on the very first meaningful play of his career.
I should’ve known better.
This is the 2017 Iowa Hawkeyes football season. Nothing is as easy as an opening paragraph in a quick recap on a blog. After Toren Young started the game with two positive runs to get us all juiced up, Ivory Kelly-Martin fumbled after picking up a first down on what looked like a promising opening drive.
Just like last week, Iowa’s defense was on the hook to “bend but don’t break” against an Illinois offense that seemingly forgot that they had less than 200-yards against Nebraska last week and immediately fumbled on the first play of todays game in the rain at Iowa during their Homecoming. Of course, George Jr. threw a beautiful touch pass down field on a hurry-up third and short play that pushed the Illini into the redzone.
Of course, the Iowa D stood their ground and stopped Illinois in their tracks (what up, Brandon Snyder!) and forced Lovie to settle for a field goal.
Enter Wadley (Who was maybe punished in the first series?). And Nick Easley. And creative (i.e. obvious) Brian Ferentz play calling.
After T.J. Hockenson caught a crossing route for 24-yards, Wadley ruined some dudes ankles as he waddled for 14-more yards:
After a read-option that Stanley kept for some positive yardage (SAY WHAT?), the sophomore signal caller found his favorite target, Nick Easley, for a 5-yard touchdown after looking off a defender.
Now, there was a flag on that scoring play against Illinois for a late hit. The yardage was assessed on the kickoff. Krazy Kirk liked that. He liked that a lot:
A first-quarter onside kick? Iowa catches Illinois off guard. pic.twitter.com/EiOG9XHBYL— On Iowa (@GazetteOnIowa) October 7, 2017
Iowa football! Iowa football! My word, IOWA FOOTBALL!
On the following series that included an RPO bubble screen and a “Tight End around”, Iowa eventually drove to the 14-yard line where they faced a 4th and 1. The coaching staff rightfully wanted to put seven on the board after going for the onside kick, so they went for it.
Wadley didn’t have enough in him on the iso against a loaded box. I don’t understand why Young started the game, looked good and then disappeared again. Why isn’t he picking up these short yardage situations? You can’t argue that it’s because the opposing defense will know what Iowa is doing because the opposing defense already knows what Iowa is doing on 4th and 1. THEY’RE RUNNING UP THE GUT.
Iowa comes up empty two weeks in a row after creative fakes. Disappointing.
The Illini took over, marched down the field (Did I mention that this was the 2017 Iowa Hawkeyes football season yet?) and punched the ball into the endzone that was ultimately called back.
That led to this:
YOU GOTTA GET UP TO GET DOWN, AMANI!
On the next drive, Stanley hits Noah Fant for a 41-yard pitch and catch that leads to another offensive stall after a late throw to Easley in the endzone. Miguel Recinos hits a 37-yard field goal.
Lovie Smith put the offense on the back of his running game and it paid off big. True Freshman Mike Epstein took a handoff 58-yards into Iowa territory, Josh Jackson got called for a pass interference which led to a touchdown on the ground by Ra’Von Bonner. Six plays. 85-yards all on the ground. To this point Illinois has almost as many rushing yards as they did total against Nebraska last week with 150. Not good.
Stanley would get picked off on a (over) throw into quadruple coverage on the next series (it was bound to happen eventually) that would lead to three more points for the Illini with 2:49 left in the first half.
Bennett Williams picks off Nate Stanley and Illinois is in business. pic.twitter.com/WtYTJlTe4X— On Iowa (@GazetteOnIowa) October 7, 2017
13-10, Lovie’s Lovable Losers.
With two timeouts and a passing offense that has wrecked Illinois for the majority of the game to this point, Iowa got fancy (i.e. obvious) again and FAKES ANOTHER PUNT:
Who is this Kirk Ferentz? pic.twitter.com/Kx55Bhcxq5— Dustin Schutte (@Schutte_B1GFB) October 7, 2017
Stanley would eventually hit Wadley for a 2-yard dump pass for the final score of the half.
17-13, good guys.
Quick note about the first half: THERE WERE ZERO PUNTS. Absolutely incredible in a 17-13 game against two offenses that are not playing the best up to this point.
Within the first four-or-so minutes of the third quarter, there were three punts (two by Iowa from Ryan Gersonde, one by Illinois). The second from Gersonde was very Rastetter-like, traveling 31-yards putting Illinois in fantastic field position to once again take a lead.
Too bad Brandon Snyder is back and wearing his Superman cape:
That’s just a football player, folks. It’s also when everything would change for Iowa. EVERYTHING.
After a 10-play, 53-yard drive that resulted in another field goal for Illinois, Iowa put on their hard hats and went to work (if work was running out the clock to get to the bye with a W). Wadley showed patience in the zone run game and Stanley delivered on wonderful play action pass to Hockenson (who is somehow always open on those types of plays) to push this game to the fourth quarter. On the second play of the 4th, Stanley ripped a fast ball to Matt VandeBerg for a 39-yard touchdown:
That play turned out to be Meerkat’s longest reception since 2015 and honestly, it couldn’t have come at a better time. Iowa needed to capitalize on that drive. While I’m sure the coaching staff would’ve preferred to take more time off the clock, putting seven more on the board forced Illinois to put the ball in George Jr. hands. With two picks in Iowa territory today and a bleeding clock, that’s a battle this Iowa defense is going to win.
After Illinois turns the ball back over to Iowa on downs (two big shots by George down field that turned up incomplete), Iowa ran the ball four times, unleashed Fant down the seam for 32-yards and Wadley does the rest... high step and all:
38-16, ALL HAWKEYES.
After another George Jr. interception by Geno Stone (what a play on the ball by the freshman), Iowa took over on the Illini four yard line.
That only means one thing... IT’S WIEGERS TIME BABY:
45-16, Ball game.
At times, it was frustrating and a lot of the second half wasn’t clean by any means. But when it was all said and done, Iowa got back on track in the run game. Brandon Snyder came back just in nick of time to hopefully solidify a shaky secondary. Tristan Wirfs put some good work on tape right before the bye week which leaves me a little more confident that the offensive line will be better for the second half of the season. Stanley proved that he can mostly handle an open playbook that allows him to make some plays to help out his runningbacks.
Iowa (thank you for letting me love you again, BF) found a way to release the hounds as we here at The Pants predicted all week long. Of course, the defense did their thing and everyone is, once again, on the same happy page before going to Iowa City East to take on Northwestern.