I’m maintaining my optimism today. If Iowa was going to go out and get stomped, then against Minnesota was the game to do it. The Hawkeyes are still in position to win the West if they can find a way to win out. There is a chaos scenario where Iowa loses to Illinois but beat Wisconsin and Nebraska to finish 5-3, Minnesota loses to OSU beats the winner of Wisconsin/Nebraska and loses to the loser and also finishes 5-3, Nebraska splits Wisconsin and Minnesota and loses to Iowa and also finishes 5-3, and Wisconsin splits Nebraska and Minnesota and loses to Iowa and also finishes 5-3. In that scenario, I think the tie break would go: Iowa and Minnesota get the nod for going 2-1 against the group of four, then Minnesota would win based on head-to-head. So, if Iowa wants to keep its slim hopes alive, then tomorrow’s game is a must win.
Of Course Wes Lunt is Back
The Illinois quarterback will be back after missing the past month with a broken leg. With Lunt, the Illini were 3-2…without him 1-3. Of course the competition has also been a lot better, but his numbers are a lot better than backup Reilly O’Toole as well. O’Toole is more interception prone, throwing six picks to just four touchdowns and completing just 55% of his passes. Lunt has thrown just three picks to his 13 touchdowns and completed 66% of his throws. The only good news with Lunt is that he isn’t really present any threat as a runner. I don’t think he has a single rushing play for positive yards. So Iowa so be able to get after him on passing downs and won’t have to worry as much about him running.
The Offense Has To, HAS TO, Go Deep
Illinois is going to score points. In Lunt’s worst game he still threw for 230 yards and 2 TDs. But the Illini defense is not good. They are giving up over 260 rushing yards per game, by far the worst in the Big Ten and 121st nationally. So if Iowa can stretch the defense at all, then the run game should be able to get going. And here's more good news: the Illinois pass defense isn’t good, either. While they haven’t given up a ton of yard through the air (because teams can just run against them), their pass efficiency defense is the worst in the conference. If there is any team to compare Illinois' defense to, it would probably be Indiana. So let’s hope Iowa can duplicate the success that it had in that game, particularly with the big plays.
Take Care of the Football
Everything went wrong last week, but Iowa really destroyed any chance of keep it close early by making bad mistakes with the ball. Jake Rudock threw a pick and fumbled. Akrum Wadley also lost a fumble. Jonathon Parker muffed a kickoff (which he does too often) and was swallowed up once he picked it up and started running. A punt was partially blocked. Blargh.
Illinois was able to beat Minnesota because the Gophers had that type of bad day 3three0weeks ago. That was the Illini's only win over anyone resembling decent competition. Even against Western Kentucky, it took them three turnovers and a 21-point 4th quarter to pull out a win by a single score. More good news: Rudock has only thrown four interceptions all year, and Illinois has the fewest interceptions in the Big Ten (just four). So this factor might come down to the running backs holding onto the ball (which Minnesota's running backs didn't do against Illinois).
Iowa lost a close game in non-conference play on a last second field goal, played pretty mediocre against some lower-level teams, then had a very up and down first half of conference play. The offense lacked an identity as the defense tried to hang on. There was a game in there were everything went right (Western Michigan) and a tough road loss after starting the game well (Ohio State). In Iowa’s 9th game of the year, they got beat handily by Wisconsin. Then lowly Purdue came along with their really terrible defense. And suddenly Iowa’s offense was ignited. The win was the spark Iowa needed to finish the season strong beating Michigan and Nebraska.
Could Illinois' defense be the spark that Iowa needs this year?
Which Iowa team is going to show up? I have to think after the whooping they took last week, this team will be motivated and prepared. After playing poorly against Maryland, Iowa looked extremely sharp against Northwestern (though there was that bye week in there, too). But I think we’ll see the Hawkeyes in a similar game as the Indiana game. The Illinois defense is just as bad, and maybe even a little worse, but their offense is capable of putting up some points (though through the air instead of with an impressive running back).
Iowa will run the ball well enough, Iowa will pass the ball well enough, and wins.
Final Score: Iowa 31 - Illinois 21