The Iowa Hawkeyes clinched the Big Ten West on Saturday with a 15-13 win over Illinois. As Hawkeye fans have come to expect, it was an ugly slog of a game that left the faithful wondering if victory could be snatched from the jaws of defeat. But it also came with some hope.
We saw the Hawkeyes put together another solid half of offense to open the game. It wasn’t a scoring outburst, but it was a third straight half absent a three-and-out. That’s a winning stat given the Hawkeye defense. We also saw QB Deacon Hill look much like he did against Rutgers. He completed 78% of his passes for 134 yards and a TD while also doing something we hadn’t yet seen. On Iowa’s TD drive in the first half, Hill stepped up and scrambled 12 yards for a first down to keep the drive alive.
In short, Hill and the offense did enough to win in the first half. Then the second half saw the cracks start to grow. The timing seemed off and the happy feet returned (more accurately, this trend picked up in Iowa’s final drive of the first half). As we’ve seen throughout the season, a struggling passing game leads to a struggling rushing attack.
But Iowa found just enough down the stretch to get the job done. A big part of that was the massive, game-sealing run by Kaleb Johnson in the 4th quarter, but so much of the early success came from Hill and rhythm throws to Kaleb Brown. Brown has been thrust into a larger role in recent weeks and amassed 7 receptions last week, the most of any Iowa WR all season.
With the Hawkeyes looking to continue to improve offensively against another solid defense against Nebraska, they’ll need Brown, Johnson and everyone else to continue to produce in the final week of the regular season.
Ahead of that matchup, Iowa released an updated depth chart on Monday afternoon.
- Let’s start with the aforementioned Kaleb Brown. His role has emerged largely in the absence of former starter Diante Vines. Vines again missed last week’s matchup with Illinois and ahead of Friday, he remains absent from the depth chart. Brown notched 62 snaps last week and as noted, led the team with 7 catches for 71 yards. More of that, please.
- Behind Brown, there are no changes, but it’s worth mentioning while walk-on Alec Wick is the immediate backup, he saw no snaps last week. Instead, third stringer Jacob Bostick saw a season-high 13 snaps. At 6’2”, he has a larger frame than anyone else on the depth chart at WR so keep an eye on his role over the closing weeks. Also worth just noting here that while Seth Anderson was opposite Nico Ragaini early in the season despite being listed behind him, he seems clearly behind him at this point. Ragaini led all WRs with 66 snaps against Illinois while Anderson was a distant third in the group with only 26 snaps.
- Up front, no changes to note. That itself seems notable. For the second week in a row, we saw starter Logan Jones take snaps early against Illinois despite Tyler Elsbury being listed as last week’s starting center. After the early goings, however, Elsbury really settled in and the offensive line seemed to perform well with him making the calls. Heading to Lincoln, Elsbury is still listed as the starter. We’ll see if he takes all the reps this week or if Jones again takes 5-10 snaps away from him.
- On defense, only one change from last week’s depth chart and it’s perhaps the saddest sentence to type. Cooper Dejean is officially off the depth chart this week after the injury last week in practice. In his stead, we see Deshaun Lee at starter as expected. It’s worth noting Lee’s backup is listed as freshman John Nestor. TJ Hall remains a question mark in terms of health as the secondary continues to be razor thin.
The Hawkeyes and Cornhuskers are set to kick off at 11am CT on Black Friday in the final regular season game of the year. The game will be broadcast on CBS.