Game Preview: Illinois Fighting Illini
Iowa will look to build on its thrilling victory over the Minnesota Golden Gophers when they host the Illinois Fighting Illini for an 11:00 A.M. kickoff in Kinnick Stadium. Iowa will enter with a 7-3 record and a 4-3 mark in the Big Ten. Illnois comes off a bye week at 6-4 (4-3 in the Big Ten) and are bowl eligible for the first time since 2014. Iowa defeated Illinois a year ago in a 63-0 rout in Champaign-Urbana and have won 5 straight in the series. Illinois leads the all-time series 38-34-2. Iowa is currently listed as a 15 point favorite.
Iowa's Offense Against The Illini Defense
This could be an interesting test for the Iowa offense against a much improved Illinois defense. Iowa should have some confidence heading into the game after they controlled the first half against Minnesota and will look to build on that success.
Illinois' defense is very intriguing. They rank 54th in passing yards allowed, 104th in rushing yards allowed, and are allowing nearly 412 total yards per game. Despite giving up all those yards, the Illinois defense has been the most valuable unit for Lovie Smith's Illini, as they lead the nation in takeaways at 2.6 turnovers per game, have recorded 4 Pick 6's on 10 interceptions, and recorded 2 Scoop and Scores on 16 recovered fumbles. The Illini defense was the catalyst an Illinois upset of Wisconsin earlier this season when they forced 3 Badger turnovers and limited Jonathan Taylor to just 132 rushing yards.
The key for the Iowa offense will be holding onto the football and not beating themselves. Illinois will be tackling the football, jumping passing routes, and generally trying to cause havoc for the Iowa offense. Iowa should have the edge at most positions, but will have to be fundamentally sound and not let the Illinois defense score. Tyler Goodson should be poised for another solid game, as the Illini defense is allowing nearly 200 yards on the ground. Goodson should be the focal point of the offensive gameplan, with Nate Stanley continuing to supplement the run game when needed.
I expect Iowa to dominate time of possession and limit Illinois' opportunities at a short field, and cruise to a comfortable victory. This game should be a great opportunity for an offensive explosion against an aggressive Illinois defense.
Iowa's Defense Against The Illini Offense
Iowa should have a distinct advantage on this side of the ball. Illinois has struggled at times to move the football, squandering multiple opportunities at home to beat Nebraska early in the season and winning against Purdue three weeks ago despite only producing 26 passing yards on 6 pass attempts.
Despite the inconsistency, Illinois has had some solid offensive performances and when they are successful they show balance. Iowa will need to force Illinois to be one dimensional and will likely lean on the defensive secondary to keep the passing game in check while keying on the Illini run game. In a lot of ways, this game could look similar to the defensive performance against Minnesota, where Iowa is content to give up yards between the 30's, but tightens the screws as Illinois nears the endzone.
Overall, Iowa should be fairly convincing in their handling of the Illini offense. Illinois may put up some yards, but just don't have the same depth at the skill positions as some of Iowa's previous opponents. The Illini will have a couple long drives that result in points, but will be largely contained by a solid Iowa defensive performance.
Nothing against Iowa's specialists, but the hope should be that the won't have a huge impact on this one. If the Hawks take care of business, Keith Duncan shouldn't need to add to his nation leading total for made field goals and Michael Sleep-Dalton shouldn't get many opportunities. This unit has been the most reliable of Iowa's three units, so there should be no heartburn or concern for the specialists at this point in the season.
This game may start slow for Iowa, with the emotions of Senior Day contribuiting to a Minnesota hangover, but there is no reason to believe that Iowa won't win this game comfortably. Illinois has lived this year on forcing costly turnovers for opponents and scoring on defense. Preventing the Illinois defense from impacting the game by scoring will be the key for Iowa putting this game away early.
Iowa starts slow, gets rolling on offense, and cruises to a comfortable Senior Day victory over an up and coming Illinois that just doesn't have enough to hang with this experienced Iowa team. Iowa emerges with a comfortable victory and can quickly turn their attention to the short week ahead of the Black Friday matchup with Nebraska.
As always, On Iowa! and Go Hawks!
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