After a 28-6 drubbing by the Nebraska Cornhuskers last Friday, the Illinois Fighting Illini head to Iowa City to face the Iowa Hawkeyes on Saturday morning. Since 1999, the Illini not won a game played in Kinnick Stadium. Will that trend change this year? Let’s take a look at the competition:
Last Meeting/Series History
In their previous meeting last season, Iowa shutout the Illini 28-0 in Memorial Stadium. The last game Illinois played in Iowa City saw the Illini fall 29-20 in a close game against the #22 Hawkeyes. Illinois holds a 38-28-2 lead in the overall series, and a record of 18-17-2 in Iowa.
Iowa protects the football, and is very efficient on third and fourth down
Of the course of their program’s history, Iowa has establish quite the reputation of protecting the football. This season, the Hawkeyes are continuing to live up to that moniker as they are the ninth best team in “interceptions thrown percentage” at an impressive 0.73%. While Iowa only throws the ball 43.41% of the time, their ability to maintain possession and convert on third and fourth down gives their offense control of the ball and the clock. Iowa’s third down conversion percentage is 40.85%, and their fourth down conversion percentage is 87.50%. Add to that their ability to hold opponents to a dismal 28.57% conversion percentage on third down, and there’s no question as to how the Hawkeyes are able to control the game.
Iowa struggles defending against the pass
Missing last year’s first team Big Ten safety Desmond King has taken a toll on the Hawkeyes’ pass defense. Don’t get me wrong, the past few years have been a grind for the Iowa secondary...but this season leaves Iowa without a leader in the defensive secondary. Because of that, they’re looking at the 91st best defense in the country (this is with the 46th best rushing defense). Opposing teams will find a LOT of success against Iowa as long as they throw the football efficiently.
What We’re Concerned About
Iowa’s run defense
So we know that Chayce Crouch will not be starting against Iowa on Saturday. This means that Illinois will rely on Jeff George’s arm to establish a passing game to open up the run. Thing is, this Iowa run defense only surrenders an average of 128.2 yards per game (good for the 46th best in the NCAA). If George doesn’t throw the ball well/Illinois moves back towards Crouch and runs, the Iowa defense will have a field day.
Why We’re Not Worried
Iowa’s offense is not geared to score quickly or often
This means that the Illini will have a great opportunity to keep the game close. The Hawkeyes average 5.1 yards per play, but only a 73.33% redzone scoring percentage. If Illinois can keep the Iowa offense at bay in this one, the Illini will have a chance at pulling the upset in Kinnick. But they NEED to throw the ball well.