For much of the first half, Iowa's performance against Illinois today was a little too similar to last week's farcical showing against Minnesota. It was just a cavalcade of mistakes, most of them self-inflicted: too many dropped passes or failed run attempts, too many failed fourth-down attempts, too many fumbles (lost and recovered), and a boinked field goal. The main thing standing in the way of another crushing result for Iowa? Illinois is really bad at football. Like, pretty much all of it. They're undisciplined (8 penalties for 59 yards), mostly bad at tackling (see: all the tackle attempts Iowa running backs ran around or through), and mostly bad at blocking (see: the lack of holes for the Illinois running game and the bad throws Illinois quarterbacks were forced into).
Still, for far too long, this looked like a game that was going to stay irritatingly close. Illinois was getting thoroughly outplayed by Iowa, but that wasn't being reflected by the scoreboard. A 9-7 lead isn't much of a lead when it just takes one missed tackle or biting on one good juke move to give Illinois a big play. Luckily, Iowa stopped shooting themselves in the foot and finally started getting out of their own way to turn statistical dominance into actual scoreboard dominance. And that was that.
Speaking of statistical dominance... Iowa rolled up 587 yards of offense in this game. 587 yards! Honestly, 30 points was probably the minimum they could have scored today, given how easily they moved up and down the field for most of the day. (Related stat: Iowa punted twice in this game. TWICE.) Iowa should have had far more than 9 points (on 294 yards of offense) in the first half; once they started finishing drives with touchdowns, this game turned into the rout it should have been from the start. If Iowa had been sharper in the first half, the score of this game could have been virtually identical to their 45-7 beatdown of Northwestern two weeks ago.
How bad was Illinois in this game? Ferentz decided a 16-point lead early in the fourth quarter was solid enough to send in the back-ups. And he was absolutely right. Illinois offered very little resistance in this game, outside of Mike Dudek, who parlayed two big plays into an 80-yard, 2 TD game. Wes Lunt looked like a guy who hadn't played football in over a month and the Illinois running game was DOA (88 yards on 25 carries). Illinois had 235 yards on 56 offensive plays (4.2 ypp) -- and that includes a 12 play, 89-yard TD drive in garbage time. Illinois' seven prior drives?
...yeah. This game was a much-needed bounce-back performance by an Iowa defense that got bullied all over the field by Minnesota a week ago. Illinois isn't exactly the stiffest test (though they did have a very strong pass offense under Lunt early in the season), but it was still a relief to see Iowa actually stop someone after last week's meltdown.
Odds 'n' ends:
* Mark Weisman topped 100 yards rushing (123) for the first time this season, although his streak of scoring a touchdown stopped at 7 games (The last time he failed to score? Ball State, another game marked by statistical dominance by Iowa's offense but not enough points to show for it.). Although it looked like he DID score a touchdown in the second quarter when he extended the nose of the ball across the goal line. The refs saw it differently, though.
* That failed touchdown did allow Ray Hamilton to get his first career touchdown reception, which was nice to see. Considering the hype he came to Iowa with, it's quite a shock that he didn't record a touchdown catch until the third-to-last (or fourth-to-last, counting the bowl game) game of his career. Hamilton had a fine game, though -- he caught another touchdown pass in the second half and iced the victory by recovering Illinois' onside kick attempt at the end of the game. It would be nice to see Hamilton end his Iowa career with a flourish over the next few weeks.
* In fact, for most of the game Illinois treated Iowa's tight ends like they were ineligible men running downfield. Jake Duzey led Iowa with 3 receptions for 110 yards (including one impressive juggling catch along the sideline) and Duzey and Hamilton combined for 5 receptions for 130 yards and 2 touchdowns. That'll do, tight ends. That'll do.
* Today marked Jordan Canzeri's first significant action since the Maryland game a month ago and he looked... OK. The highlight of his day was a 20-yard run near the end of the game and for much of the day he didn't look completely sharp or totally fit, but it was good to see him in action all the same.
* The tight ends made most of the noise in the passing game today, but the wide receivers weren't bad, either. Tevaun Smith had a few big third down conversions among his 3 catch, 46-yard output and Damond Powell had a tremendous touchdown grab in the fourth quarter.
* And finally Jake Rudock's day was... fine. 14/21 for 210 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT through the air and 39 yards and a touchdown on 8 carries on the ground -- that's solid. Very solid. It wasn't a great performance -- he fumbled a few snaps and was off on a handful of throws -- but it was perfectly fine. He avoided any egregious mistakes and helped keep the chains moving for Iowa all day.
* So: 7-3 overall, 4-2 in Big Ten play and still in with a shout for the Big Ten West. Winning the West will involve beating Wisconsin and Nebraska the next two weeks and doing that will almost certainly require a sharper overall performance than Iowa had today, but this was still a decided step forward for Iowa after last week's colossal misstep.