Despite big win over Michigan, Iowa not overlooking shaky Illinois
IOWA CITY, Ia. – Saturday was one of the biggest upset wins in Hawkeye football history.
Not that anyone was able to tell by Tuesday.
Iowa’s attitude and Michigan’s College Football Playoff position went unchanged after the 14-13 shocker at Kinnick Stadium. It was a business-like attitude this week, from head coach Kirk Ferentz to the players, as Iowa (6-4, 4-3) moved on from toppling No. 3 Michigan and toward woebegone Illinois.
“Last week, our guys are out there every day,” Ferentz said. “I’m sure they’re hearing some negativity. Now it’s just the opposite.
“Really, the challenge is to ignore both of those things and focus on what you’re trying to do.”
It’s impossible to block out the noise entirely in Iowa City and celebrations continued long after kicker Keith Duncan’s 33-yard field goal won Saturday’s defensive Big Ten battle on national television.
But instead of reliving the weekend glory, experienced players facing the weekly media gathering inside Iowa’s Football Operations Center followed the team line.
The Fighting Illini (3-7, 2-5) leave no room for a let-down.
“We moved on Sunday night,” Iowa center James Daniels said. “That’s when we started watching film on Illinois, so we moved on.”
Saturday’s 11 a.m. kickoff in Champaign, Ill., will certainly be an adrenaline drop from the sellout home crowd that stormed the field after Duncan’s boot. But Illinois is playing its final home game of the 2016 season and beat Michigan State, 31-27, in its last outing at Memorial Stadium.
After briefly reveling in the tale of his helmet finding its way downtown, Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard turned his attention toward his next opponent.
“We’ve just got to realize that it’s a two-game season right now,” Beathard said.
“Like we did after Penn State, we’ve got to put it behind us. That was a tough loss, this is a big win, but it’s got to go behind us as well. ... We’ve had a couple good days of practice so far.”
Former NFL head coach Lovie Smith is in his first season in charge of the Illini and still seeks his first West Division victory.
Injuries and inconsistencies have made challenging, but defensive line play and a quarterback carousel have offered bright spots.
Defensive end Carroll Phillips leads the Big Ten with 17 tackles for loss and eight sacks. Dawaune Smoot has 12.5 tackles for loss and three sacks on the opposite edge, and Auburn transfer Gimel President backs him up.
“Last year that D-Line gave us trouble,” Daniels said. “I think they might have had pressure on every pass attempt. They’re very capable of getting after us, so we need to be careful, because they’re very good players.”
And it’s not as if the Illinois offense presents no threat. Quarterback Wes Lunt is expected to start and had a 317-yard passing day in a 29-20 loss in Iowa City last year. Running back Kendrick Foster has 671 yards rushing and 524 yards on kickoff returns this season.
But the Hawkeyes held a potent Michigan attack to a season-low 203 total yards on Saturday and would love a repeat performance with bowl placement and pride on the line.
“It’s something down the road that I’ll be able to look back on and say, ‘I was a part of that,’” Iowa linebacker Ben Niemann said. “But right now that’s over.”
It’s a wholly different task from one week to the next, and Iowa has gone from double-digit home underdog to double-digit road favorite. From 70,585 screaming Hawkeye fans to Illinois' average just under 47,000.
The Hawkeyes also have to deal with a short week after Saturday’s game, getting Nebraska next Friday at a to-be-determined time at Kinnick.
There will be time to bask in beating an extremely talented and previously unbeaten Michigan team. But even as he cracked a few jokes and highlighted his players, Ferentz made it clear his staff wouldn’t overlook Illinois.
“Probably somewhere in January when we’re done, I’ll get the guys to make me a DVD of the (Michigan) game, because I don’t know how to Tivo,” Ferentz said. “I’ll watch that and that may be enjoyable. Right now, there’s no time. Right now, we’re just worried about the next game.
“I’m sure it’s going to be a tough game, no question in my mind.”