Each week we’ll take a look at what went right — and wrong — for the Hawkeyes on Saturday. Catch all the previous rewatches right here.
As it’s a holiday week and Iowa completely dominated an inferior opponent, we’ll keep this a little shorter today. The Hawkeyes, as I’m sure you’re aware, beat the Illini 63-0 behind 400 yards of offense and efficient play from all three phases of the game.
No, it doesn’t exactly fix everything that’s gone wrong this season, but a 63 point shutout is a helluva thing to look at. It’s just kind of absurd, honesty.
Perhaps my favorite stat of the day? The Hawkeyes had the same amount of tackles for loss (11) as the Illini had first downs. With that in mind, we’ll start with the defensive side of the ball today.
Defensive snap counts
Defensive line: A.J. Epenesa (50), Chauncey Golston (50), Anthony Nelson (36), Parker Hesse (36), Cedrick Lattimore (34), Brady Reiff (32), Matt Nelson (25), Sam Brincks (25), Tyler Linderbaum (7), Garret Jansen (5).
Linebacker: Jack Hockaday (64), Djimon Colbert (38), Nick Niemann (29), Kristian Welch (11), Amani Jones (7).
Defensive back: Geno Stone (68), Amani Hooker (65), Jake Gervase (65), Matt Hankins (65), Michael Ojemudia (65), Riley Moss (11), John Milani (10), Julius Brents (10), D.J. Johnson (10), Devonte Young (7).
Note: Snap counts include penalty-negated plays.
With a big-ole blowout on our hands, we saw a number of young players get a few snaps under their belt, which was nice to see.
It also meant A.J. Epenesa and Chauncey Golston really got a chance to shine. The pair combined for 12 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, two pass breakups, two QB hurries, 1.5 sacks, a fumble recovery and a punt block.
We certainly know Epenesa is a talented athlete, but Golston has really come into his own this year. He’s been great all season, but Saturday’s game was just another level. I think he might be Iowa’s third-best defensive lineman after AJE and Anthony Nelson (you can make the argument Hesse should go ahead of Golston) but regardless he’s been phenomenal.
Take Epenesa’s strip, fumble recovery and touchdown, for example.
Playing defensive end on this drive, Golston out-physicals the right tackle (using a nice little swim move a couple seconds in) and starts to take Illinois running back RaVon Bonner down in the backfield.
That’s when Epenesa comes in and makes a terrific play on the ball, but it all starts with Golston. Playing at both defensive end and tackle, Golston has the flexibility to be a constant contributor for the Hawkeyes. With Hesse graduating (and barring injury) I think there’s zero doubt Golston starts next season.
The dude just makes plays.
This is a truly horrible read by Illinois quarterback A.J. Bush, but regardless Golston makes the correct read and snuffs this play out before it goes anywhere.
Iowa’s defensive line ate throughout the day and caused all sorts of headaches for Bush and the Illini offense. When that group gets going for the Hawkeyes, they’re hard to stop.
Even on special teams, as Epenesa was also credited with a punt block early in the second quarter.
Iowa’s been good at disrupting just about everything on defense and special teams this year so this game was well within what’s been the norm.
It was great to see the Hawkeyes get their second punt block of the season and even better that it came from Epenesa. That dude truly is a special talent and it’s been awesome to see how deep the defensive line group has been for the Hawkeyes this season.
I mean this game was just Iowa blowing up Illinois play...
... after play
Just, really, a tremendous effort all around from Iowa. The Hawkeyes line played well, its linebackers played well and its secondary played well.
Outside of the punt block and the fumble returned for a touchdown, Iowa also had two interceptions. It’s become something of a theme for this team to get numerous turnovers a game and it happened again this week.
While the punt block early in the second quarter pretty much ended this game, even any tiny bit of momentum for Illinois was ended with this pretty pick from Ojemudia.
Iowa’s in its raider package here and it’s a rather interesting look. Iowa rushes Hesse, Golston and Epenesa, while it looks Anthony Nelson hangs back to help provide contain.
Certainly not something we’ve seen very much (in fact I can’t recall once) this season. Iowa’s secondary does its job, the pass rushers get just enough pressure and the Illinois quarterback just lofts the ball up there.
Here’s Iowa’s second pick, this one from Amani Hooker:
Hooker just undercuts the route and he’s now tied for first on the team in interceptions this year with four. Geno Stone has four as well.
In all, fantastic stuff from the defense. Iowa allowed just 3.2 yards per play, which will win you a heckuva lotta football games. Let’s do this again next week.
Offensive snap counts
Wide receiver: Brandon Smith (31), Nick Easley (25), Nico Ragaini (18), Kyle Groeneweg (17), Dominique Dafney (14), Ihmir Smith-Marsette (12), Henry Marchese (3).
Tight end: T.J. Hockenson (43), Noah Fant (37), Nate Wieting (18), Drew Cook (10).
Running back: Mekhi Sargent (32), Toren Young (29).
Fullback: Austin Kelly (15), Joe Ludwig (1).
Note: Snap counts include penalty-negated plays.
The Hawkeyes didn’t have to pass the ball much, though a whole host of new faces got a chance to get in at wide receiver, which was cool to see. They did a lot more blocking than pass catching, but that is the life of a Hawkeye wide receiver.
It was certainly nice to have Brandon Smith back as well, who I really do think is an extremely key piece to this Hawkeye squad.
For the first time this season, Iowa had a single rusher over 100 yards as Sargent gained 121 on seven carries and added on two scores. Young was also solid, finishing with 67 yards on 14 carries.
My favorite play of the day was this fullback fake, halfback pitch, a play the Hawkeyes used against Northern Iowa earlier this season. That one went for an eight-yard gain. This one went for a touchdown.
Just... perfect. Iowa sells it well, Illinois is out of position and Toren Young dives in for a score on third down. Absolutely love every single thing about this.
Also, of note, watch Noah Fant who goes in motion. He makes a great block that really helps spring this play. The junior tight end was tremendous against the Illini, hauling in three catches for a team-high 54 yards.
He also caught a touchdown:
Just a nice little slant and Fant makes the easy catch before turning on just enough speed to get into the end zone. Amazing what happens when you get one of your very best offensive players on the field.
Speaking of your very best offensive players and also tight ends, T.J. Hockenson also had a tremendous game. The sophomore had two catches for 48 yards and they both went for scores.
I like this play call. Short side of the field, third and one. Illinois is definitely thinking a run or a short pass to Fant, especially after he goes in motion. You can see one of the Illini defenders shadow him across the field, which opens up some space on the short side.
After a quick chip block, Hockenson uses his speed to get seperation and by the time the ball is in his hands, there’s nothing Illinois can do. Touchdown.
Unlike in some of the past few weeks, Iowa actually used its tight ends extremely effectively and it paid off. The Hawkeyes were able to get them into space and get the mismatches they wanted.
Exactly what we want to see.
Overall, I thought this was certainly one of Iowa’s better all-around games. Yes, obviously Illinois is an extremely bad team. But beating a supremely bad team that bad (especially someone who is in the same division you are and on the road to boot) shouldn’t be completely disregarded.
It’ll get tougher this week, but let’s enjoy this one.
Oh, also Kyle Groeneweg returned a punt 61-yards for a touchdown. Go Hawks.