Leistikow's Week 13 Big Ten picks: 5 good things Iowa can do against Illinois
IOWA CITY, Ia. — The Iowa football team is coming off two emotional trophy games, in which it experienced crushing defeat (Wisconsin) and November top-10 victory exhilaration (Minnesota). The Illinois football team is coming off a Saturday without playing and rides a four-game winning streak.
If there ever was a time for Iowa to lean on its boring “fundamentals,” it's now.
The Hawkeyes are 15½-point favorites in Saturday’s 11 a.m., Big Ten Network-televised matchup because these are the games a consistent, blocking-and-tackling program should control. But the Illini (6-4, 4-3 Big Ten) are plucky, and rarely has anything come easy for 2019 Iowa (7-3, 4-3).
With that, here are five things that would be nice to see from the Hawkeyes to keep their shot at a 10-win season alive.
No. 1: Tyler Goodson’s first 100-yard rushing game.
Heck, make it 150.
If there is one non-Rutgers Big Ten game in which the Hawkeyes can elevate their rushing attack past sputtering levels, it’s this one. For as turnover-savvy as this Illinois defense has been, it’s equally poor against the run. The Illini gave up 363 yards rushing to Nebraska; 332 to Minnesota; 295 to Michigan; and 275 most recently to Michigan State. In conference games, they are worst in the league when the opposing quarterback hands the football to a teammate.
So, let’s see how Iowa’s run game can really go behind its talented true freshman.
Goodson’s season-high of 13 carries against Minnesota (which gained 94 yards in his first career start) should become 20-plus carries Saturday. The Iowa offensive line is finally healthy and might be rounding into form. Right guard Kyler Schott looks like more than a neat fill-in story. The walk-on looks like a long-term solution (especially as a run-blocker).
Toren Young has Iowa’s only 100-yard rushing game this season, and that was against Middle Tennessee State. He and Mekhi Sargent might get 10 or so carries apiece, too. And maybe if Iowa can build a nice lead, we’ll get our first look at true freshman Shadrick Byrd, too.
No. 2: Iowa’s first tight-end touchdown this season.
Would you believe that “Tight End U.” hasn’t had a tight-end touchdown since T.J. Hockenson’s 37-yard catch on Nov. 17, 2018, at Illinois?
In fact, Nate Stanley’s last 17 touchdown passes (dating to the Outback Bowl) have gone exclusively to wide receivers — five to Ihmir Smith-Marsette, four to Brandon Smith, three to Tyrone Tracy Jr., two each to Nick Easley and Nico Ragaini and one to Oliver Martin (Remember him?). That’s nothing against wide-receiver touchdowns, but the timing feels right to restore tight-end glory to an end zone near you.
And, considering the Hawkeyes’ top two tight ends on the depth chart are from Illinois — fifth-year senior Nate Wieting (of Rockford) and true freshman Sam LaPorta (of Highland) — Saturday seems like a fitting time to throw that direction.
No. 3: Two or more interceptions on defense.
I’m giving up on predicting an Iowa defensive touchdown — something that hasn’t happened since A.J. Epenesa trucked into the end zone a year ago in Champaign. If the Hawkeyes can merely win the turnover margin against the nation’s leader in turnover margin, that’d unlock a victory.
It’s unclear if senior cornerback Michael Ojemudia will play, although he’d love to contribute in his Kinnick Stadium finale. Chances are, Illinois will need to rely on the right arm of Brandon Peters against an Iowa secondary that struggled against Minnesota and hasn't produced many big plays all year.
Iowa had 21 interceptions in 2017; 20 in 2018; and only got its eighth of 2019 with Riley Moss’ grab on Minnesota’s final play. The Hawkeyes had an otherwise forgettable day against the pass vs. the Gophers, uncharacteristically allowing completions of 17, 20, 46, 36, 29, 28, 30, 17, 16 and 15 yards.
Peters, the Michigan transfer, is heating up. During Illinois’ four-game win streak, Peters has 689 passing yards, six touchdowns, one interception and two game-winning drives. Having Desmond King back as honorary captain should provide Iowa's secondary some inspiration.
No. 4: A perfect day from Keith Duncan.
With the Lou Groza Award naming three finalists next week, Iowa’s steady junior (and the team) could use another stellar kicking afternoon. Duncan leads the nation with 23 successful field goals (many of which he’s converted in wet or windy conditions) on 26 attempts and is just two makes shy of tying the Big Ten’s season record. He’s also perfect on PATs (21-for-21).
I can't see Duncan being justifiably bypassed by three other kickers, unless he has a rough Saturday. The legendary Nate Kaeding (in 2002) is the only Iowa kicker to win the Groza.
No. 5: Senior-day smiles as the clock strikes :00.
Just win, baby.
Getting a “W” would be the 25th for Stanley as Iowa’s starting quarterback. (Of note, he is 318 yards away from becoming the 24th Big Ten QB to reach 8,000.)
Getting a “W” would tie Kirk Ferentz with his predecessor, Hayden Fry, for fourth all-time in Big Ten victories (96).
Getting a “W” would mean Iowa finishes 6-1 at Kinnick, just the second season in eight that it was at least that good at home (7-0 in 2015 is the other).
With emotions measured and fundamentals heightened, a convincing Hawkeye "W" is how I see this unfolding. The Illini have covered five straight, but that string of success ends here, too.
Iowa will run for 200-plus yards and pass for 200-plus for its 11th satisfying win in the last 12 series meetings.
Prediction: Iowa 34, Illinois 14
What about the biggest game of the Big Ten season? Let’s start in Columbus.
No. 9 Penn State (9-1, 6-1) at No. 2 Ohio State (10-0, 7-0)
Time, TV: 11 a.m., Fox
Vegas line: Ohio State by 18½
Prediction: This line seems way too big on the surface, doesn't it? The last three matchups have been decided by margins of 3, 1 and 1. But consider: Penn State’s defense the past two games (against Minnesota and Indiana) have allowed quarterbacks to complete 49 of 61 passes (80.3%) for 710 yards (11.64 per attempt). Yikes. The Nittany Lions’ best chance in the Horseshoe is to get off to a signature fast start, or else this clash for the Big Ten East title could get lopsided. Ohio State 38, Penn State 14
No. 11 Minnesota (9-1, 6-1) at Northwestern (2-8, 0-7)
Time, TV: 11 a.m., ABC
Vegas line: Minnesota by 12½
Prediction: Minnesota quarterback Tanner Morgan was in concussion protocol as of Thursday, as a result of a sack by A.J. Epenesa on the third-to-last play of last week's game in Iowa City. If Morgan was unable to go, the reins would be handed to one of two true freshmen: Cole Kramer or Jacob Clark. That's a major dropoff from the nation's sixth-most efficient passer. But, Northwestern might be down to its fourth-string QB. No matter what happens, Minnesota can still win the West by beating Wisconsin next week. Minnesota 24, Northwestern 7
Michigan State (4-6, 2-5) at Rutgers (2-8, 0-7)
Time, TV: 11 a.m., Fox Sports 1
Vegas line: Michigan State by 20½
Prediction: You know better than to watch this game. You also should know that beleaguered Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio, in the midst of a five-game losing streak, said he plans to return next season. The Spartans come to Kinnick on Oct. 3, 2020. Michigan State 31, Rutgers 14
No. 12 Michigan (8-2, 5-2) at Indiana (7-3, 4-3)
Time, TV: 2:30 p.m., ESPN
Vegas line: Michigan by 9½
Prediction: A curious spot for both teams, considering Michigan has the season-saver against Ohio State on deck. Did Indiana spend all of its emotion in a valiant 34-27 loss to Penn State last week? I think the Wolverines (who have outscored opponents 148-38 since falling behind Penn State, 21-0, on Oct. 19) come out with a sharp focus after previous scares against the Hoosiers. Michigan 35, Indiana 17
Nebraska (4-6, 2-5) at Maryland (3-7, 1-6)
Time, TV: 2:30 p.m., BTN
Vegas line: Nebraska by 5
Prediction: The Cornhuskers need to win Saturday then beat Iowa on Black Friday to achieve bowl eligibility. Considering Nebraska put up 8.2 yards per play against Wisconsin, Scott Frost’s offense is still showing octane. The over (62) seems like the safest play with two of the Big Ten’s worst rushing defenses converging. Nebraska 35, Maryland 31
Purdue (4-6, 3-4) at No. 14 Wisconsin (8-2, 5-2)
Time, TV: 3 p.m., Fox
Vegas line: Wisconsin by 24½
Prediction: The only stat you probably need to know: Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor has averaged 270 yards rushing in his two meetings with Purdue, and this is probably his final game at Camp Randall Stadium. The Badgers have 37 sacks this season, tied for fifth nationally, and that poses an additional problem for the banged-up Boilermakers and walk-on quarterback Aidan O’Connell. Wisconsin 42, Purdue 14
Last week: 2-4 against the spread (5-1 straight-up)
Season: 43-45-1 ATS (68-21 SU)
All-time: 145-133-2 ATS (205-75 SU)
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 25 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.