We’ll use this space to briefly recap last week’s matchup to watch before heading to the this weeks.
Week 1: Rondale Moore vs. the CASH
Week 2: Isaiah Bowser vs. Iowa’s LBs
Week 3: Iowa’s WRs vs MSU’s CBs
Week 4: Iowa’s rushing attack vs. Minnesota’s LBs
Week 5: Spencer Petras vs. PSU’s passing defense
Week 6: Daviyon Nixon vs. Nebraska’s interior line
Is there a chance we are actually underrating Daviyon Nixon? He absolutely ate Matt Farniok’s Thanksgiving leftovers time and again, as tnels20 described in his Rewatch. This is my favorite non-interception from Nixon this season:
He finished with 3 tackles for loss and 8 overall.
The #19 Iowa Hawkeyes (4-2) are on an absolute tear after starting the season with two dispiriting losses. They face a maybe decent? Illinois Fighting Illini (2-3) team who has notched a couple wins against lesser foes since an 0-3 start. Weird to call Nebraska and Rutgers lesser than Illinois but them’s the breaks of 2020.
Part of the way both teams have seen their fortunes improve is in the turnover column. Iowa was even in their first two games, totaling 5-5, but have jumped to 11-3 in the four wins. The Illini’s turnover balance sheet was 5-6 in the three losses and has skyrocketed to 10-1 against Rutgers & Nebraska.
Brandon Peters returned two weeks ago to face the Cornhuskers and had the best game of his career at 18/25 passing (72%) and 205 yards. He added 36 yards on the ground in 8 attempts and accumulated two touchdowns - one by air and one by ground.
Part of the way Lovie Smith has limited turnovers is by really leaning into their rushing attack with 59 and 52 attempts in the last two games. Certainly some of that is a function of not being down multiple scores but does give an indication to what Illinois’s preferred style is.
Now, if Kirk Ferentz and company play this year’s iteration of the game similarly to last year - the game was not out of reach until two-plus minutes in the fourth quarter - then it will place emphasis on Iowa’s defense, like always. In 2019, Iowa scored just a field goal off of Illinois’s three turnovers and, if replicated, may lead to an even less optimal outcome than Iowa’s 19-10 win last year.
While Peters may be feeling it after a very good outing, he was less than ordinary against Iowa in last year’s game with a couple interceptions (one by Matt Hankins in the red zone) and two fumbles, one of which was lost. It was one of his worst games as a Big Ten quarterback - his career started at Michigan - as he has just 11 interceptions in 429 attempts over parts of four seasons.
So, if there is an opponent who can return Illinois’s turnover differential back to what they experienced in the first three games, it’s Iowa.
Yet, the Hawkeyes are coming off their first game without an interception since Iowa faced Penn State in October of last year, good for a 13-game streak. In that game, the Nittany Lions ran the ball 53 times to 24 passes, a ratio Lovie Smith will look to replicate.
Much of this hinges on Iowa’s ability to take care of the ball themselves and, hopefully, build a lead which forces Illinois to force the ball down the field.
If Iowa is able to win the turnover battle, it’s very likely it will result in a win. Forcing turnovers starts with the quarterback and Iowa’s secondary will be hungry to get back on the scoreboard and start a new streak.