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The Pants Predicts: Iowa at Illinois

The Hawkeyes are a drug we just can’t quit.

NCAA Football: Illinois at Iowa
Can the Hawkeyes steal the hearts of Illini fans?
Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

Illinois has gotten off to a hot start in 2022, entering Saturday’s matchup at 4-1 and riding the high of a 34-10 win in Camp Randall which cost Paul Chryst his job. Now they play host to the Hawkeyes for a night game in Champaign looking to avenge losses in each of the last eight seasons. Iowa comes in just looking to be competent on offense.

Vegas is not expecting much on that front. Our friends at DraftKings Sportsbook opened this one at Illinois -3.5 with an over/under at 35.5 total points. That has moved around a bit during the week, but as of Friday morning we’re right back at Illinois -3.5 with the over/under up to 36.5 points.

At The Pants, we’re not exactly optimistic about the offense but we have some doubts about the Illinois offense as well. On average, we’re calling for an Iowa win at 20-16. That puts us JUST barely on the under in this one but pretty firmly on the Hawkeyes with the 3.5 points. There is one of us who’s taking Illinois and giving the points. Feel free to stone them in the comments.

Here’s a look at each of our individual predictions for this week.


I’m not of the opinion that the Hawkeye offense had some sort of revelation against Michigan and is now poised for a major breakout. But I’m also not of the opinion that Illinois’ defensive ranking is reflective of who they really are. The truth for both of those is probably somewhere in the middle.

If I think about how that translates onto the field for a night game in Champaign, I think I’m probably in line with Vegas that Illinois has a slight edge. But this one likely comes down to turnovers. Iowa has had some untimely ones this year, but the Illini are coughing it up at an alarming rate and if and that’s how the Hawkeyes win games. I see both teams finding some modest success offensively but Iowa getting an edge from short fields and turnovers.

Prediction: Iowa 20, Illinois 17


I don’t know if this should make anyone feel better, but I rarely have felt this good about a B1G game where Iowa is not a clear favorite. While Iowa hadn’t scored and had limited possessions in the 1st half last week, I felt much better about the way Iowa was using formations and blocking schemes. For the first time, I could see the trio of Bruce, Ragaini, and Brecht as a viable group to pair with how Iowa is using LaPorta and Lachey. Iowa has also seemed to find a snap ratio for Johnson and L. Williams at running back. I do worry about Illinois bringing a lot of pressure and blitz packages that could confuse the OL/Petras. Iowa will need to dial up some unique plays in an effort to create a scoring play

The defense will once again face a tremendous running back who can do break off big chunks of yardage at once. Their OL has not garnered the credit they deserve to this point, and Iowa will be forced to utilize depth to counter their activity. I do believe Iowa should be able to force a turnover or two this week.

Prediction: Iowa 22, Illinois 16

Bartt Pierce

I am a big Bret Bielema (the football coach) fan. Anyone that has Hawkeye ink is good in my book. He knows how to win B1G football games. He needn’t leave Illinois to recruit. He has a nice squad with a superstar running back. It has the makings for a spectacular evening for the Illini. Next to Wisconsin, there’s not another program (ok, Arkansas) that Biels would like to beat than his alma mater. For some reason, I am drinking the “Iowa is improving” Kool-Aid and I think we see a decent offensive performance. Assuming our defense and special teams remain status quo, that adds up to a Hawkeye victory. It’s never pretty but having one more point at the end of the game is the idea. Kirk could make shirts that say that. As always, Go Hawks!

Prediction: Iowa 23, Illinois 13


Illinois looks impressive at the moment, but I’m also old enough to remember Illinois losing at Indiana 4 weeks ago. I think the Iowa defense is still the best unit in this game so that gets Iowa over the hump. I’m not confident in the pick - how can anyone be confident in this Iowa team given the moribund offense? - but maybe this is Kirk’s Houdini game (we’ll go with Houdini instead of David Blaine as this week’s illusionist of choice). Illinois hasn’t beaten Iowa since that weird-as-hell game in 2008 and I think Illinois fans are keenly aware of it (Bielema is certainly aware of it). They’ll be rocking, it’s a night game, they’re feeling themselves, but Iowa finds a way in this one. They kind of have to - 3-3 going into the bye, then at Ohio State...yeah, no thank you. I’ll pass on that.

Prediction: Iowa 20, Illinois 13


Iowa arguably should have lost to Illinois in 2021, or at least very well could have. Iowa scored just one offensive touchdown in that game, a short 7-play, 50-yard touchdown drive in which Iowa gained half those yards in a single play (a 28 yard pass from Alex Padilla to AB4; Petras didn’t play in that game). Illinois went up 10-0 in the first quarter but then gave up a kickoff return for a touchdown. It was a one-score game with 1:55 to play in the 4th quarter when Iowa kicked a field goal to push the margin to 10, and then a Jack Campbell pick-six salted the game away. The Illinois committed 10 penalties in that game for a whopping 96 yards, turned the ball over twice, and rushed for just 64 yards.

This Illinois team is better, and this Iowa team is worse. The Illini are #9 in my rankings on defense in YPP, giving up an OA 3.62. They’re #5 in YPG (206.17) and #7 in PPG (7.32). On offense, they’re a ho-hum #62 in YPP at 5.54, but a respectable #46 in YPG at 432.90, and #44 in PPG at 32.57.

You know who that sounds like? A really good Kirk Ferentz Iowa team.

Add to this that Illinois is playing at home, at night, led by a former Hawkeye player who knows exactly how to beat Iowa, looking to break a lengthy losing streak, and coming in from the road hot off an utter drubbing of the B1G West’s other bullyball team, and the script for this game practically writes itself.

Prediction: Iowa 13, Illinois 24


Illinois has supplanted Iowa as the nation’s top scoring defense, a fact which is both depressing, and is cause for pessimism about whether the Hawkeyes can move the ball effectively in Saturday night’s game. So far, the Illini have been a better approximation of the team Iowa fans hoped to see from their university than the Hawkeyes themselves, relying on a dominant running attack, competent passing game, and stifling defense to get out to their best start in years.

I’m still picking the Hawkeyes for a few reasons, though.

  1. Illinois averages nearly 2x as many penalty yards as the Hawkeyes, something which could give Iowa a clear advantage in a game where field position could be extremely important
  2. Illinois runs the ball a lot, but they also fumble the ball a lot. The Illini have put the ball on the ground nine times through five games, losing seven of them. An ill-timed fumble or two, particularly in their own territory, could put Illinois at a major disadvantage.

But most importantly,

3. Iowa desperately needs this win. The Hawkeyes absolutely cannot afford to be 3-3 after this game, especially given that their upcoming trip to Columbus will almost certainly end in a loss. Dropping this game to Illinois could leave Iowa is serious jeopardy to make a bowl, and I have to believe that this team (and in particular this defense) are too proud to let the season slip away this early in the year.

Prediction: Iowa 17, Illinois 13


While we as a fan base are mired in the muck that is this offense, it would be foolish to predict a break out performance…

Well folks, I and Brian Ferentz shall take a quote from a true cinematic masterpiece who’s plot reaches depths not even the deepest of oceans could fathom.

“I’m not dead!” We’re not dead yet damnit! Hawks are winning this game behind a big game from the tight ends and the ability to limit mistakes. It’s not going to be pretty, but the Hawks grab a much needed win before the bye week.

Prediction: Iowa 27, Illinois 17


Ugh, I dread this every week but this week is especially tough to predict. My heart says that the Hawks will lose in extremely stupid fashion but my gut thinks there’s a win in there. It’s Illinois football. So I’m willing to step out on a limb for this team for the last time this season. This is a must win game.

Prediction: Iowa 17, Illinois 13


Last week was Iowa just being outplayed by a better team. They didn’t do themselves any favors with mistakes they made but at the end of the day they lost to the better squad. This week Iowa should have the better team but I don’t know if they can impose their will like the Wolverines were able to do. I don’t like this one, not a bit, but I’ll go with Iowa in an ugly one.

Prediction: Iowa 17, Illinois 14

So that’s what we’re expecting this week. Let us know what you’re thinking about Saturday night in the comments below!