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Iowa Football Position Grades: Illinois

Kinnick, it was great to be back! (And now I can return)

Illinois v Iowa
Kaleb “Superman” Johnson to the house!
Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images

As I wrote last week, I made a return to Kinnick Stadium for the first time since 2002. That’s not a typo. I attended with my nephew and brother; both are football coaches who know the game at a much higher level than myself. Case in point. With the Hawks down late with the ball at about our 30-yard line, my nephew commented, “The Hawks probably won’t drive the distance here, but we will pick up about 20 yards, punt, flip the field, get a stop, and get a short field for the win.” It played out exactly like that. That’s Iowa football. Kaleb Johnson scored almost the only way we were going to get in the endzone on a well-blocked run, and, “Innnnnnnn Heaven there is no beer!” What a day for Iowa football and our seniors! Also, seeing The Wave for the first time in person was an incredible experience. It was also fantastic that our Kid Captain was named Cooper. The young man was welcomed with a long, loud “COOOOOOOPPPPPPP”. A nod to him and Mr. DeJean. Pretty cool moment.


QB: B-/C+

After the game I was notified that Deacon Hill’s numbers were the following: 19-29 for 167 yards, 1 TD, and 0 Int. I was dumbfounded. It did not feel like that. Those are respectable numbers. Not turning the ball over was the key. Deacon’s fumble (if you can call it that) was one of our best offensive plays of the day. It certainly seemed like an incomplete pass to me, but I’ll take it. Deacon is not the most mobile of quarterbacks, but he’s improving and he is tough. I did chuckle when someone behind me yelled, “Why do we have an offensive lineman playing QB?!” In my opinion, Deacon holds the ball too long, but he hasn’t played a ton of football in the past few years.


Iowa’s backs accomplished two very important things against a good Illinois defense. They didn’t put the ball on the ground, and they were tackled behind the line just one time (for minus one yard). Even when Iowa’s offensive line missed a block - and it felt like quite a bit - the Hawks’ backs did an excellent job of getting positive yardage. Leshon Williams ran 16 times for 54 yards (3.4), Jaziun Patterson ran 4 times for 11 yards (2.8), and Kaleb Johnson (10 for 53 and a score) put the offense on his back for this game-winner.

It was strange to me that Illinois played such a deep safety the entire game, considering we aren’t a threat to complete a deep ball. The one time where said safety could have made a big play, he did not anticipate KJ’s speed and he took a bad angle. Six points, Hawks! Johnson’s first-down run on 3rd and 8 was almost as big as his score.

I would love to see us try to get Johnson outside with a toss-sweep. We run 100% of the time between the tackles, and with Johnson’s speed, good things could happen.


This letter grade is completely based on the fact that we are the Iowa Hawkeyes. Forward passes to non-tight ends are akin to four-letter words. Kaleb Brown continues his upward trajectory. He caught seven balls for 71 yards. Nico Ragaini had some terrific, contested catches. He finished with five grabs for 46 yards. Seth Anderson had two catches for 26 yards. As a position group, Iowa’s wideouts had 14 catches for 143 yards. That doesn’t even seem possible to me.


Iowa’s tight ends don’t get enough credit for their blocking ability. On almost every big run, Iowa’s tight ends make key blocks. Addison Ostrenga, our 3rd string tight end, caught five balls for 24 yards and this score.

OL: C+

This grade was tough for me. Iowa ran for a respectable 3.2 yards per carry against a tough, athletic Illinois front. Deacon Hill was sacked four times. Deacon isn’t Michael Vick or Steve Young back there, but four sacks are hard for the Hawkeye offense to overcome. It felt to me like the Hawks ran many plays in which a defender was not blocked. I do think that George Barnett is moving this group in the right direction. One factor that goes against the big uglies is that the entire stadium knows what play calls are going to be made, and it often feels like there are 43 defenders within two yards of the line of scrimmage because of this. Tyler Elsbury is playing some pretty good football at center in the place of banged-up Logan Jones.



Iowa’s front four collected one sack (Joe Evans) for a safety

and had four batted balls at the line of scrimmage, including two in a row to shut the door on the Illini.

Despite just the one sack, Iowa’s defensive line made plays when it counted. Illinois ran for only 65 yards (2.8). Iowa’s D-line accounted for an impressive 14 tackles.


Jay Higgins continued his All-American season in what may be his final game in Kinnick Stadium. Higgins had 12 tackles and broke up a pass. JHigg is having a year for the ages, and his family deserves a special shoutout. They are positive, good folks, and his dad has some sweet Hawkeye style.

Hawkeyes through and through

Mr. and Mrs, Higgins, Jay is most definitely, “Certified!” Nick Jackson has improved every game to the point of being all-B1G. Jackson had eight tackles and two QBHs. The Hawkeyes have some young linebackers who will get a lot of reps in bowl prep. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Iowa hit the portal at this position as well.

DB: A-

Illinois has some rangy, athletic receivers. Isaiah Williams is a dude. The Illini passed for 215 yards, but Hawkeye defensive backs made them earn everything underneath. I was very nervous without Cooper DeJean at corner. Deshaun Lee filled in and did a more-than-admirable job. Lee had five tackles and a pass breakup. A more experienced Lee will intercept that ball the next time it comes his way. Quinn Schulte and Sebastian Castro combined for eight tackles and three pass breakups. The Hawks had 13 breakups on the day.

Special Teams: C

The good news. Tory Taylor left Kinnick in style, winning the B1G special teams player of the week. Taylor averaged an exceptional 51.6 yards on his punts. Hopefully, the coaching staff brings in a comparable-ish player from Down Under, because punting is most definitely winning at Iowa. The not-so-good news. Iowa did not look like Iowa on special teams, and it almost cost us. Drew Stevens missed a field goal from 53, and we had an extra point blocked. The stadium went into panic mode as a field goal would have beaten us as a result of this. Also, Iowa missed Cooper DeJean’s experience returning punts (and the free kick) as we misplayed two balls on returns that cost us field position.

Up Next: Nebby

The Hawks clinched the West! We travel to Nebraska on a short week, and then we head to Indianapolis to play either Ohio State or Michigan. Matt Ruhle is a good football coach, and it is now hard for me to hate Nebraska. Scott Frost made that oh-so-easy to do. The Hawks will do everything possible to win the game, but ideally, we get a good lead and give a few reps to younger/inexperienced players. Since we more than likely will score between 14-17 points, don’t bet on it (unless you bet the under - that’s a sure thing). As always, it’s Great to be a Hawkeye!

  • A special mention to a large contingent of Macalester College’s (St. Paul, MN) football team for being in attendance. Go Scots!