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IOWA CITY, Ia. — The lightest Kinnick Stadium crowd in four-plus years was treated to a tense affair it didn’t hope to see. The Hawkeyes, fresh off a top-10 upset with senior day festivities in play, surely had enough firepower to halt Illinois’ late-season surge. Right?

Not so much.

Once again, the Illini gave a quality foe all it could handle in what has been a 2019 resurgence. Iowa survived, 19-10, Saturday afternoon in the final home game this season — but it didn’t come without a struggle.

An inefficient ground game, more red-zone inefficiency and Illinois’ pesky attack kept the Hawkeyes on edge until late into the fourth. It was only after forcing a late fumble, morphing the turnover into a nine-point cushion and then buckling down defensively could the 58,331 in attendance breathe easy.

Iowa’s defense locked this one down. Two key turnovers — a Matt Hankins end-zone interception and Kristian Welch’s forced fumble with 7:46 remaining — halted promising Illinois drives. Nearly 200 Illini rushing yards amounted to only one touchdown.

Offensively, Iowa looked like it was ready to roll early. A big fourth-down conversion in plus territory kept the Hawkeyes’ promising opening drive alive. Tyler Goodson scampered in from two yards out after a huge Ihmir Smith-Marsette grab to give Iowa a 7-0 lead less than five minutes in. The only scoring that followed, though, came from four Keith Duncan field goals.       

Smith-Marsette hauled in four catches for a career-high 121 yards. Iowa’s tight end trio combined for 101 yards on five catches.    

Illinois again shows its late-season mettle.

Illinois entered on a four-game winning streak, having turned things around under Lovie Smith. Road triumphs at Purdue and Michigan State showed the Illini weren't afraid to hit the road.

Still, Iowa was more than a two-touchdown favorite on senior day. Even though personnel had changed, it was hard to forget the Hawkeyes' 63-0 drubbing in Champaign last season. 

But Illinois again proved its worth in a tough setting. 

Iowa's rushing game went incognito.

Just as Goodson was heating up after last week’s first feature performance, the Hawkeyes’ ground game crashed hard into an Illini wall. Iowa found zero running lanes all afternoon.

Goodson again handled the bulk of the workload, mustering 38 yards on 21 touches. His longest run of the day — 10 yards early in the second quarter — accounted for nearly 15 percent of Iowa’s team rushing total. Cameos from Mekhi Sargent and Toren Young didn’t change anything. You know it was a rough day when Stanley was Iowa’s second-leading rusher. The quarterback arguably made the Hawkeyes’ biggest runs of the day late in the fourth quarter.  

Enough air success and a stifling defensive effort masked the rushing deficiencies enough to keep Iowa in the win column. But the ground struggles certainly made things more difficult than they needed to be.   

Dargan Southard covers Iowa and UNI athletics, recruiting and preps for the Des Moines Register, HawkCentral.com and the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Email him at msouthard@gannett.com or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard. 

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