Halftime update: Iowa 17, Illinois 13

Chris Cuellar
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. – Iowa’s chances of a simple, celebratory homecoming win are looking cloudy.

Iowa (3-2, 0-2) holds a 17-13 halftime advantage in front of 69,894 fans at Kinnick Stadium, as overcast skies, turnovers, and missed opportunities have kept the Illini close.

Iowa head coach Nate Stanley warms up for the Hawkeyes' game against Illinois at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017.

Both teams are desperate for their first Big Ten win, but Illinois (2-2, 0-1) ran to the locker room with more than 250 yards of offense in a surprising road effort. Freshman running back Ivory Kelly-Martin fumbled on Iowa’s opening series of the game and quarterback Nate Stanley saw an overthrown pass intercepted in the second quarter. The Hawkeyes have similar statistics and have also recovered a fumble and intercepted a pass from Illinois quarterback Jeff George Jr., but entered the game as favorites by more than two touchdowns.

A pass from Stanley to running back Akrum Wadley put the Hawkeyes up with only eight seconds left before halftime. Iowa ran a fake punt through safety Amani Hooker – who intercepted George earlier – on the late drive to keep the idea of a halftime lead alive.

Here’s more of what we learned in Saturday’s first half.

HAWKEYES CAN’T CAPITALIZE: Two excellent early opportunities to score on Illinois came up empty for the Hawkeyes in the first quarter. After recovering a fumble of Illini quarterback Jeff George Jr. on the game’s opening snap, Iowa fumbled the ball right back, with freshman running back Ivory Kelly-Martin’s carry rolling to the 7-yard line on a third-down rush. Illinois went up 3-0 on the ensuing series.

The Hawkeyes responded with a touchdown drive of their own, capped by a Nick Easley touchdown catch that saw him take a late hit in the end zone. The 15-yard flag moved Iowa up to midfield for the kickoff, where Miguel Recinos neatly pushed an onside kick wide and past the Illini coverage team, allowing Iowa freshman Matt Hankins to recover. But again, Iowa failed to capitalize on the field position, turning the ball over on downs at the Illinois 14.  

JEWELL SHAKEN UP BUT RE-ENTERS GAME: Iowa’s star middle linebacker gave fans a scare in Saturday’s first half, leaving the field after an apparent shoulder injury following a tackle along the Illinois sideline. Jewell hit back-up QB Chayce Crouch out of bounds after a 7-yard gain in the second quarter and ran off the field favoring his right upper arm and shoulder. After receiving examination on the sideline, the senior went to the locker room and was missing as the Illini marched down the field. Junior Jack Hockaday replaced him on the series.

As speculation mounted and radio reports remained vague – “upper body injury” – Jewell reappeared. He re-entered the game on Illinois’ first full series of the second quarter.

TRISTAN WIRFS TAKES FIELD: The true freshman offensive tackle from Mount Vernon made his first career start on Saturday. Iowa has shuffled its offensive line with injuries to seniors Boone Myers, Ike Boettger, and junior center James Daniels at various points this season. Wirfs, a 6-foot-5, 315-pounder, began the game at right tackle.

IOWA DEFENSE STARTS SLOW: The Hawkeyes are struggling to hold down underdogs at home.

Illinois broke free for runs of 58 and 30 yards in the first half and scored on its second drive thanks to a 30-yard pass and blown coverage on third down. The Illini have yet to score more than 24 points in a game this season, but averaged 7.5 yards per play in Saturday’s first half.

North Texas averaged 7.9 yards per play in its first half against Iowa on Sept. 16. The Hawkeyes ultimately broke away for a 31-14 win.