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Iowa 15, Illinois 13: How the West Was Won

Kaleb Johnson saves the day and secures Iowa the last Big Ten West title

NCAA Football: Illinois at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports


Two absolutely heroic plays from Kaleb Johnson in the 4th quarter snatched victory from the jaws of defeat as Iowa managed to hang on for a 15-13 win over Illinois to clinch a loss in Indianapolis in a couple weeks.

If you had hope that last week was a lasting change for the Iowa offense, you thought correctly for the first few drives of the game, until it all came crashing back down to earth. Deacon Hill ended the day with 167 yards through the air and a touchdown on 19/29 passes, but was absolutely abysmal late in the first half and the entire second half, as Brian Ferentz decided to go away from literally anything that was working in Hill’s favor for…whatever that second half was.

Johnson, after an up-and-down sophomore season, secured the huge win with his 30-yard touchdown that made up most of his 53 yards, but his 3rd and 8 conversion was just as important in sealing the win. LeShon Williams also added 54 yards on the ground, and once again, Kaleb Brown shined as Iowa’s new shiny toy to the tune of 7 catches for 71 yards. Addison Ostrenga had 5 catches for 24 yards and Iowa’s lone touchdown catch of the day.

HIll started the day off somehow right where he left off last week: completing a pass on a play-action rollout for a first down on the first play of the game. But three plays later, the Hawkeyes couldn’t convert on a 3rd and 1, and punted the ball away.

It ended up being the right call, however. Tory Taylor, god bless his soul, put Illinois in terrible field position. And on 3rd and 12, the Illini tried to throw out of their end zone, and met Joe Evans, who forced the ball out of John Paddock’s hand, giving Iowa a safety for an early 2-0 lead. It was the third safety of the season for the defense, which now leads the entire country.

On the third drive of the game for the Illini, they finally broke into the positive yardage category. Paddock hit Isaiah Williams for a big pass over the middle for a 32 yard gain on a blown tackle. However, a missed PI call later stalled the Illinois drive, but set up a 52-yard field goal that gave them an early 3-2 lead.

Iowa’s ensuing drive was another strong one that included not only more catches from Kaleb Brown, but also a 14-yard catch on…3rd and 8? Not only that, but it also included a…Deacon Hill SCRAMBLE on 3rd and long for a third down conversion. And a couple plays later, Addison Ostrenga found paydirt from Hill to give Iowa an early 9-3 lead.

Good enough for the ballgame?

Not quite, as Illinois responded with their strongest drive of the game, moving down the field with ease in the run and the pass game, finally getting a rushing touchdown to take back the 10-9 lead and also score the first touchdown on the Hawkeye defense in a loooong time.

Iowa ended the half, however, floundering on offense. Deacon Hill fully regressed back to his norm, and the Hawkeyes entered the half still trailing.

Both teams started the half struggling offensively. But halfway through the quarter with Iowa getting the ball back, the offense woke up thanks to a great throw to Anderson on third down. Iowa followed it up, however, with a chop block penalty that set them back 15 yards.

The result was an Iowa punt into the end zone and another strong drive by Illinois, where Paddock continued to find success through the air against a weakened Iowa pass defense. It looked like Iowa was going to get a stop, until the Hawkeyes were called for an absolutely terrible roughing the passer call that gave life back to Illinois. But a crucial stop by Castro on what looked like Illinois trying to execute a tush push saved the drive, but still resulted in a field goal for Illinois to go up 13-9 as the game entered the fourth quarter.

≥And yet once again, the offense reverted back to the mean and promptly went 3-and-out as the sense of dread that had been building since late in the first half hit i,,[ts peak. Thankfully, the defense was able to get a stop in the ensuing Illinois drive.

It didn’t matter.

Deacon Hill took a terrible sack to kill Iowa’s drive before it had a chance to do anything, and with 10 minutes to play, Iowa was forced to punt again. Thankfully, it was a beautiful punt and the defense was able to give the offense another chance. Wetjen returned the punt to the 45 yard line (his first attempt at a return all day), and the offense had one more chance to win the game…with only one timeout remaining.

Nico Ragaini saved the day on a crucial 3rd down conversion, followed by a clutch defensive holding call, and suddenly the Hawkeyes had new life.

That new life went by the name of Kaleb Johnson, who responded with a 30 yard touchdown to give Iowa the lead with 4:43 left to play….but only by two points after Drew Stevens missed the PAT thanks to a block.

But once again, Iowa was saved once again by Phil Parker and his defense, who forced a huge 3 and out in response…but Illinois went for it on 4th and 2…

and were stopped again (!) by Joe Evans.

We can’t have nice things from this team though, so Brian proceeded to make absolutely no attempt to get a first down, forcing a 3rd and 8. But once again, Kaleb Johnson saved the day and converted to seal the win.


It’s a bad win, it’s a regression to the mean, but it’s a win, and it at least lets Iowa achieve its goal of winning a laughably bad Big Ten West in its last iteration. What comes next will probably be bad, but that’s a problem for another day.

Today, we take the win.