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Iowa 33, Illinois 23: Nothing comes easy

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Another week, another win clocks in closer than it should have for the Iowa Hawkeyes

Syndication: HawkCentral Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK

Tyler Goodson rushed for 132 yards on 27 carries, Gavin Williams added 56 on 10 carries, Alex Padilla went 6/17 for 83 yards and an interception, and the Iowa defense came up with two interceptions, including a game-sealing pick-6 from Jack Campbell, as the Iowa Hawkeyes (9-2, 5-2) defeated the Illinois Fighting Illini (4-7, 3-5) 33-23 on senior day in Kinnick Stadium.

While the run game in particular did its job, it was another frustrating day for Brian Ferentz and the Iowa offense. The success of the run game was plagued by what seemed like just as many run calls on first and second down that went for next to nothing, and set Padilla up for failure in countless 3rd and long situations. The Hawkeyes ended the day going 5-16 on third down, and were also outgunned in total yards, 312-257. Caleb Shudak was the true hero of the game, hitting 4-5 field goals, with his only miss coming from 58 yards and his longest at 51.

The passing game particularly struggled. Padilla threw a bad interception into double coverage. Multiple receivers dropped solid passes from Padilla. And the sophomore barely threw at all — but did show off his legs more than his first start. Honestly, I don’t know if there’s a true “better” quarterback between him and Spencer Petras. Petras may be the better passer, but Padilla’s mobility against the pass rush did a lot to ensure Shudak was kicking from manageable distance.

Iowa’s trouble getting teams off the field on third down (and the impact of multiple injuries to the secondary) seemed to rear its ugly head from the start as Illinois moved down the field efficiently in the passing game in its opening drive, converting on third-and-long 3 times before finding the endzone on a wide open pass over the middle to take the early lead, but as the day went on, the conversions stopped coming. However, three of Illinois four 3rd down conversions came on the first drive.

The emphasis on the run game for Iowa was apparent from the get-go, with Goodson converting a 3rd down on a toss, before Padilla opened up the pass game, but a dropped pass from Sam LaPorta killed the opening drive.

Instead of going for it on a very manageable 4th and 3, Kirk Ferentz tried to play the field position game in response, but Tory Taylor whiffed on the snap for the punt and gave the Illini the ball with pristine field position. Thankfully, a penalty moved the Illini backwards, and the offense couldn’t convert through the air, but it still was enough to set up a 46-yard field goal for the Illinois lead.

But who needs offense when you have Charlie Jones on special teams? The lid finally came off for the senior, who took Illinois’ kickoff 100 yards to the house.

Electric.

In response, the Hawk defense stepped up for its best drive of the early game, forcing the Illini into a 3-and-out. Jones had another nice return that set the Hawkeyes up nicely. An intentional grounding call moved the Hawkeyes back, but Padilla made up for his mistake by finding Arland Bruce IV on an absolute dime to end the quarter and bring the Hawkeyes into the red zone. Brian continued his use of the read-option in the red zone, and Padilla almost found the end zone. Instead, it was Bruce on an easy jet sweep that gave Iowa a 14-10 lead with 14:08 left in the second quarter.

For the second time in as many drives, Illinois could not get going on offense. In response, Iowa continued its most complete offensive effort of the season, getting good contributions from Goodson and Williams in the run game, big catches from Nico Ragaini, and even a play action tuck-and-run from Padilla that was noticeably absent last week. An absolutely asinine run call from Brian Ferentz on 3rd and very long generated nothing but boos from the crowd, but Caleb Shudak converted on his first field goal of the game, giving Iowa the 17-10 lead.

Peters and the Illini were finally able to move the ball a bit on their next drive, but couldn’t find pay dirt, but brought the game closer, 17-13.

Neither team could get anything going offensively as the clock ticked toward halftime, but Dane Belton picked off Peters with 55 seconds remaining in the half. But the offense couldn’t get anything going, and Shudak couldn’t convert a 58-yard field goal attempt, but the Illini couldn’t muster anything either, and the half ended with a Padilla kneel.

After deferring, the Hawkeyes got the ball to start the second half, marching down the field efficiently, highlighted by Padilla dodging a tackle on a rollout and scrambling, making a great play out of what should have been a sack. But the offense stalled once again as receivers continued to drop passes, requiring Shudak to add to the lead once again instead of hammering home for six.

Illinois once again was able to move down the field in its next drive ,but the defense once again held to force a 53-yard field goal from the Illini. As the lead continued to dwindle, it seemed like it would be the time for Brian to open up the playbook. Instead, after a successful run from Goodson, he called two straight runs that went for nothing, setting Padilla up for a 3rd and 9 that couldn’t be hauled in by Luke Lachey.

Thankfully, Taylor bombed his punt and the Illini got flagged for a penalty, which moved them deep into their own end zone and punted after a 3-and-out. And yet, the Hawkeyes could do nothing either and punted it right back.

After a few more frustrating offensive drives from Iowa, Illinois was flagged for multiple penalties off the Jones punt return, which set Iowa up in the red zone. Brian tried to get cute with a Ragaini target to Padilla on a reverse wheel route, but the Illini were called for roughing the passer, which was reviewed for targeting, but waved off.

And yet, Brian’s frustrating red zone play calling trend continued, and Iowa once again kicked a field goal, going up by two scores, but frustrating in the process simultaneously while going up 23-16 with just over nine minutes to play.

It seemed like no one could play effective offense, particularly as Padilla threw down the field right into double coverage and threw his first interception in his time as starter. But Illinois couldn’t convert on a 4th and 3, turning the ball over with just over 5 minutes to play, and Goodson and Williams bled clock to set up another Shudak field goal, giving Illinois the ball back down 26-16 with just under two minutes left.

And the Illini came out firing, but it was for naught. Peters was picked off once again, this time by Campbell, who took Iowa’s 21st interception of the year all the way home. Illinois finally managed to find the end zone, but the Hawkeyes got the ball back with 31 seconds left and kneeled it out for the win.

Once again, a frustrating offensive performance, but a win in the end...again.