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Iowa 45, Illinois 16: What we learned

Chris Cuellar
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Iowa piled on points late to pull away from visiting Illinois, 45-16, on homecoming Saturday.

The Hawkeyes (4-2, 1-2 Big Ten Conference) picked up their first conference win after taking the lead for good right before halftime, using four forced turnovers and three Nate Stanley touchdown passes to secure a victory. The visitors were outscored 28-3 after halftime, despite racking up 446 yards of offense.

Iowa has now won nine of its last 10 meetings with Illinois, including five straight at Kinnick Stadium.

Here’s what we learned about the Hawkeyes by Saturday’s final whistle.

Iowa running back Akrum Wadley scores a touchdown in the final seconds of the first half of the Hawkeyes' game against Illinois at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017.

Another sluggish start

In all four of Iowa’s wins, its opponent has scored first. Illinois went up 3-0 on Saturday after the teams traded first-quarter fumbles, and almost took a lead into halftime. The Hawkeyes needed a short touchdown pass from Nate Stanley to Akrum Wadley to go up 17-13 at intermission, but they were outgained offensively and allowed the Illini to convert 4 of 6 third-down chances.

Head coach Kirk Ferentz’s team pulled away late, yet the recurring theme of playing from behind and starting slow is building frustration for fans.

 

Welcome back, Brandon Snyder

The junior safety pulled down a pivotal interception in Saturday’s third quarter and returned it 89 yards for a touchdown in his first game back from a spring knee injury. Snyder flew around Iowa’s secondary and was credited with a pair of pass break-ups of Illinois quarterback Jeff George Jr. The West Lyon grad was cleared to play last week against Michigan State, but took his first snaps and start of the season in a successful debut against the Illini.

Defense bending at home

Iowa’s defense, and especially its run defense, were expected to be strongholds for the team this season. That hasn’t been the case in its last few appearances at Kinnick Stadium. The unit did enough to hold off North Texas, kept high-powered Penn State close until the final snap, and pulled away from Illinois, but is allowing big plays and chunks of yards in the process.

Iowa's Matt Hankins recovers an onside kick during the Hawkeyes' game against Illinois at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017.

Illinois entered Saturday’s game averaging 267 total yards and 106 rushing yards per game. It topped 250 total yards by halftime, with sophomore Reggie Corbin and freshman Mike Epstein breaking open runs of 30 and 58 yards early on.

Iowa defensive coordinator Phil Parker’s squad ultimately forced four turnovers, including three interceptions of George, but a struggling Illini offense finishing with 446 yards and 20 first downs isn’t a great sign.

Reserves finally get in the game

Substitutes logged substantial time for the Hawkeyes for the first time this season, getting an opportunity to extend a safe lead against the overmatched Illini.

Besides backup middle linebacker Jack Hockaday, who appeared when star Josey Jewell visited the locker room briefly in the second quarter, Iowa allowed a pack of second-stringers to get on the defensive stat sheet. True freshman safety Geno Stone recorded his first career interception and redshirt freshman cornerback Cedric Boswell broke up a late, deep third-down pass.

Offensively, running back Toren Young took eight carries for 32 yards, including Iowa’s first, after not playing since beating North Texas in Week 3. Backup quarterback Tyler Wiegers got to throw a fourth-quarter touchdown pass, traveling three yards to true freshman running back Ivory Kelly-Martin.