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Iowa 19, Illinois 10: A win is a win

Iowa earns its 8th win of the season via a defensive slugfest

NCAA Football: Illinois at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

We’re a long way from 63-0, folks.

The Iowa Hawkeyes scraped out a 19-10 win through a defensive slog that felt longer than its 2 hour 15 minute duration.

Nate Stanley finished his final home game with 308 yards on 18/35 passing attempts, no touchdowns and one interception. The run game was overall ineffective, but Tyler Goodson and company made plays when it counted most. Goodson finished the day with 21 carries for 38 yards and a touchdown. The Illini, meanwhile, out-rushed Iowa’s running back corps, 192 yards to only 79. Oof. It felt like every Iowa drive but its first stalled out, and Keith Duncan had his work cut out for him. He finished the day 4-6, with a long of 45.

It was AJ Epenesa and Iowa’s defense, therefore, that were the x-factors. Epenesa started the game out quietly, before making himself a force in the second half. He got constant pressure on this quarterback, forced fumbles and continued his recent string of wreckage.

A win is a win, and Iowa moves to 8-3 on the year with a 5-3 conference record.

The Hawks looked like they would roll to the end zone on their first drive until suddenly it was 4th and 6. But Brian Ferentz went for it, and Stanley found Nico Ragaini. On the next play, Goodson found the end zone and Iowa took a 7-0 lead on what would be its only touchdown of the game. Easy, right?

Three plays later, Michael Ojemudia intercepted the ball, but Stanley’s hot passing streak ended and he missed his next six. The Hawks were forced to settle for 3, but Duncan’s field goal bounced off the upright.

Illinois’ second drive was much different than the first. The Illini moved with ease, thanks to the mobility of quarterback Brandon Peters, who converted multiple first downs with his feet before finding a wide open receiver in the corner of the end zone to tie the game.

From there, the game turned to a bit of a slugfest. Both teams would move the ball to begin the drive before either turning it over or being forced to punt...or attempt field goals. The Hawkeyes on multiple occasion found themselves in the redzone, but the drive would falter and the Hawks would settle for three.

It seemed like teams entered halftime with Iowa having a 10-7 lead, but Phil Parker called a perfect play on an Illinois 4th down that resulted in a sack that gave Iowa the ball back with 12 seconds left in the half and three timeouts. Instead of kneeling, Stanley found Tyrone Tracy for a completion that put the Hawkeyes within field goal range, and Duncan closed out the half with a 45 yard FG, his longest of the day.

Illinois received the ball to start the second half, and made quick work of the Iowa defense, including a 37 yard rush from Peters. But Peters then proceeded to find a wide open...Matt Hankins in the end zone and killed what likely would have been a scoring drive.

Iowa couldn’t capitalize again.

Locked at 13-7. Illinois found itself within potential scoring position, until Epenesa found himself in the backfield and stunted the drive on third down. And on 4th down, Illinois missed a field goal.

Iowa’s drive in response felt like a classic Iowa drive: the offensive line coverage broke apart, and Stanley found himself about to get sacked. Instead, he shed the tackle, rolled to the left and found ISM for a 40 yard competition that brought the Hawks within the redzone again. But once again the drive stalled, and Duncan converted again.

Illinois rushed the ball effectively on the next drive but touchdowns were a premium neither team could achieve in the second half, and the Illini were held to three. A fumble recovery gave Iowa the ball back with just over six minutes left in the game. But again, Iowa couldn’t find the end zone, and Duncan made his 27th field goal of the season, a Big Ten single season record: simultaneously a major accomplishment and also a telling statement about Iowa’s ability to find pay dirt.

Geno Stone knocked into Peters on what looked like it could have been a targeting call, but the play was not called as such. But the hit did knock Peters out of the game, and the backup QB could not make a play on 4th and long. Iowa got the ball back, but the run struggles continued, and Iowa punted the ball back to the blue and orange for one more last ditch attempt.

But the defense sealed the deal with Welch sacking the backup QB as time expired.

It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t fun to watch. But we’ll take the win, right?