At will. Iowa beat the absolute tar out of Illinois, and it was fun to watch—well, a bit fun.
When the opposing defense cannot stop you, cannot do anything to keep you from imposing your will, the entire playbook is open, and what your offense does is—or should be—a reflection of your program's identity. And wouldn't you know it, Kirk Ferentz decided to mash.
The end result—a 55-rush, 304-yard afternoon for the ground game, plus 10+ yards per attempt for the two QBs—is as classic Ferentz as it gets, and I say that without a tinge of wryness or irony. That's what he wants to do every game, and when Illinois let him dictate the pace and flow of the game, he did just that.
The 16-point margin is a little deceptive, because Iowa had four productive drives come to nothing and a turnover in its own territory. That's obviously not ideal, but we're fine with Ferentz's decisions to go for those fourth downs. In each case, Iowa was far enough into Illinois territory that the Illini would have had to string together a long, sustained drive to get a touchdown (something the Illinois offense didn't do until garbage time).
Think of it this way: let's say Iowa kicks on those three fourth downs. Let's say Marshall Koehn connects on two of the three (seems fair—he's a 69% kicker this year). That's six points... or less than if even one of those fourth downs is converted and Iowa goes on to score a touchdown. And against a porous defense like the Illini, you have to operate under the good faith that you'll succeed at what you're trying to do. So although we're not thrilled with a one-yard route on 4th and 2, we are completely fine with Ferentz's decisions to go there. The luck won't always break your way, but on the whole it's the best way to maximize your team's production on the scoreboard.
And hey, even with three fourth downs unsuccessful, a missed field goal and a really bad fumble in Iowa territory, the Hawkeyes still won by 16 points. The 7-2 deficit wasn't great, and the 9-7 halftime lead wasn't much more fun either, but the reality was that Iowa was demolishing Illinois on a play-by-play basis, and eventually the score caught up with that reality.
The Iowa-Illinois score finally reflects that game that’s been played— Tom Fornelli (@TomFornelli) November 15, 2014
It's tempting to see a result like this and wonder "where has this been all year?" I mean, there is an answer to that: Champaign. Illinois is wretched, and how this team beat Minnesota I will never, ever understand. Other than that, what else is there to say about a flat-out domination of a team you're supposed to flat-out dominate? 587 yards to 235, there's your game right there. Iowa wasn't losing that one. No way, no how.
The real fun stuff starts this week, as Wisconsin brings Melvin Gordon—quite possibly the single best player in all of college football this year—to town. Gordon attacks the edges better than anybody since... hell, Reggie Bush, and Iowa struggles on rush defense there... as we're all exquisitely aware. More on that this week, obviously.