The Iowa Hawkeyes went perfect through the month of November, but we’re not in November anymore. It’s officially December and a new set of challenges await Iowa. This week, the Hawkeyes are headed to Champaign, Illinois for their final road game of 2020. The Illini enter the contest off a week of rest after their matchup with Ohio State was cancelled, but Illinois was victorious over the same Nebraska team that gave Iowa fits in their last game out and are riding a two-game winning streak of their own.
This week, the Hawkeyes opened as 12-point favorites. That’s now run up to -13.5 most places with and over/under moving down to 51 from an open at 52.5. At The Pants, all but two of us (you’ll not it’s the same two of us for the last five weeks...) are on the Hawks to win straight up, but just one of us thinks they’ll cover the higher line at 13.5. On average, we’re expecting a final score of Iowa 25, Illinois 19. That puts us pretty firmly on Illinois with the points and solidly on the under.
Here’s a look at our individual predictions.
Do I think Illinois is better than Iowa? No. Do I think they can beat Iowa? Yes. Am I predicting it? Also yes. Hear me out.
This is an Illinois team that has struggled at times this year. Their defense is giving up 32 points per game and Iowa is averaging right around there. On the surface, this looks like a game where the Hawkeyes should be able to grind the Fighting Illini into a pulp by running it down their throats.
But we saw Nebraska find a way to slow the Iowa running game early last week and I expect Lovie Smith to replicate that on Saturday. If Illinois can get Iowa behind the chains and force them to win through the air, this becomes a much scarier proposition. We all know the struggles of Spencer Petras with more interceptions than touchdowns, but frankly he’s gotten away with throws too. If that doesn’t work out this week, it could be a miserable day.
Illinois 17, Iowa 13
This team offensively can be very frustrating, but I don’t think there will be any issue with Illinois. Hopefully this is a nice tune-up game for Spencer Petras.
How one-sided has the Iowa-Illinois series been under Kirk Ferentz? The last time the Illini beat the Hawkeyes, Juice Williams was their starting quarterback. The Illinois victory before that came when Brad Banks was still playing at Hinds Community College. During the Hawkeyes’ current winning streak, Iowa has won every game by at least two scores. The last time Iowa visited Champaign, it left with a 63-0 victory under its belt.
Illinois has a great running game and Brandon Peters is one of those scrappy quarterbacks who will make plays that drive Iowa fans crazy, but Illinois is simply outgunned in this matchup. The Hawkeye offense should be able to put up points against the Illini defense, and Illinois’ passing game isn’t good enough to keep them in the game once the Hawkeyes start to blow things open.
Iowa 31, Illinois 17
The Illini defensive scheme is going to challenge Spencer Petras to make throws between coverage and down the seam. Will Iowa finally connect on a deep shot against the deep safeties this week? If I’m Brian Ferentz, I call 3-4 plays where Brandon Smith has a chance to make a 1v1 play downfield on a jump ball.
On the other side, I just don’t see Illinois being able to get much going against this Hawkeye defense. Iowa’s front four will be too much for their offensive line to handle and the linebackers will cleanup anything on the perimeter.
Random prediction: I think we see a trick play on a kick/punt.
Iowa 27, Illinois 20
The funniest thing about Illinois is Lovie Smith will probably be in consideration to get his old job back with the Chicago Bears if he wins these last two games.
Which gives me confidence he’ll throw this one against Iowa since beating Northwestern is far more important, and he’s safe from the McCaskey spell if he goes 1-1 to end the year.
Iowa 30, Illinois 17
Until this goes sideways (Fran-ism) I’m picking against our Hawks. It’s the least I can do for our squad. I wonder if anyone has done a blog on Hawkeye superstitions/traditions. I’ve got a lot of them. Who doesn’t love Lovie? It’s a nice change to not have a buffoon across the field from Kirk. I’m hoping (no way I can predict) that Spencer Petras has a “good-ish” day. How sad is it that my expectations are already to that point with our quarterback play. To (Chuck) long for a “B-” grade out of the QB1 spot is something that would not sit well with Hayden Fry. I’m still waiting for some exotics from LeVar Woods’ special teams. It’s coming Saturday! It won’t be enough. The Illini have played two games with their 4th string QB. Not so against the Hawks.
Illiniois 27, Iowa 20
I have a weird feeling about this game. It might be Iowa’s shaky passing offense. It might be Kirk Ferentz’s willingness to try and win a game by scoring as few points as possible. It might be it took three Brandon Peters turnovers to seal the Hawkeye victory last year and he played pretty good two weeks ago!
But some of what ailed Iowa in that matchup last year - red zone offense - has been ameliorated. Iowa’s defense is still Iowa’s defense.
I don’t think the Hawks cover, but they win comfortably after some initial uneasiness.
Iowa 24, Illinois 14
So that’s what we’re expecting this weekend, what are you predicting as Iowa travels to Illinois?