It’s odd that we currently are living in a world where we as Hawkeye fans need to worry about a trip to Champagne in the middle of the season. Before the start of the year, this was a game that many of us thought would be tricky, but ultimately end up in another Iowa W. Well, I for one still think Iowa will find a way, but everything points to a dog fight in this matchup. Two great defenses facing offenses that don’t stretch the field vertically in the pass game sets this up to be a rock fight of epic proportions. So where does Iowa hold an edge in this game? Lucky for us, it’s in two areas that usually point to Hawkeye victories. Let’s take a look.
Over the course of Kirks long tenure at the helm of Iowa football, the Hawkeyes have almost always been near the top of college football when it comes to fewest penalties and penalty yardage. This corroborates Kirk’s desire to win by playing sound, fundamental football while controlling what can be controlled. This season, even after last weeks debacle of several HORRIBLE flags against the Hawkeyes, Iowa still ranks in the top 25 for fewest penalties a game at #24 committing 5.0 per game. As I said, thats actually a little bit above the average during Kirks tenure so we should see that number drop slightly through the rest of the year. The Hawkeyes rank better in penalty yards per game coming in at #19 with 39.8 yards per game. Again, both those numbers are inflated slightly from last weeks fiasco. So what about Illinois? The only reason one would point to penalties as being an area that could signal a Hawkeye victory would be if there was a large gap between the two schools, and folks, thats exactly what we have.
During the same time that Kirk has almost always trotted out a discipline football team, the Illini have not. Even with their nice start to 2022, Illinois still plays an undisciplined brand of football. Illinois ranks near the bottom in nearly every statistical category regarding penalties in a game. They rank #106 in penalties per game committing a whopping 8 per game! And they aren’t five yard false starts and offsides flags either, they’re big ones. It all leads to the Illini being worse in yards given up through penalties as they are ranked #116th giving up 73 per game! These numbers create a chasm that against the Kirk Ferentz coached Hawkeyes, would be hard for any team to over come. For those of you who want to push back with the argument that Illinois just beat a very discipline team in Wisconsin on the road, Wisconsin is ranked right up there with Illinois in penalties per game with 7.5, good for #97 in the land, and yardage given up per game at 72.8 landing them at #114.
So keep your eyes on flags being a big indicator as to who will win this game. Still though, flags alone are a pretty poor excuse for being the determining factor of a football game. For this matchup however, as I previously mentioned, it’s more about looking at an opponents overall discipline. And as an Iowa opponent, if you couple penalties and this next area of discipline together, you’re rarely going to beat the Hawkeyes.
This category is always a lead indicator as to who will win a football game. Lucky for Iowa, it has the advantage over Illinois in this part of the game as well. It’s well known that Iowa both takes care of the ball at an extremely high rate and turns their opponent over at an even higher one. The Hawkeyes are ranked #10 in the country with only .5 turnovers per game and #34 in takeaways per game with 1.8. Illinois on the other hand is ranked #82 in the nation in turnovers per game at 1.8 (right at Iowa’s takeaway number) and they stand at #7 in takeaways at 2.5 per contest. All this points to a nice advantage for the Hawkeyes. Illinois may have the edge in takeaways right now but if Iowa had also played Graham Mertz already they’d be right up there with Illinois. And just so you all know, the official Graham Mertz Merchandise store is still up and running! What great news! Here’s the link just incase your baby needs more onesies or you’d like a cool hat with a college kids face on it.
So there is your reason for optimism this week. Honestly for me personally, I’m a lot more confident in this game after having looked into these statistics. Fact of the matter is, Iowa doesn’t lose these games. Bad offense or not, they have proven year after year that if a team beats them, they’ll have to play mistake free football in at least one of these areas if not both. I’m going to predict that Iowa gains 40 hidden yards of field position through penalties in this one, and win the turnover battle 2-1. That should be a winning number even for these Hawkeyes.