Illinois (2-2, 0-1) will make the journey to Kinnick Stadium to play their second Big Ten game of the season against the (semi-rivals?) Iowa Hawkeyes (3-2, 0-2). We asked Max Brekke from Black Heart Gold Pants some questions about Iowa and what we can expect to see out of this game.
1. After a solid 3-0 start with wins over a good Wyoming, a rivalry win on the road over Iowa State, and a win over a not that bad North Texas, Iowa has lost their first two Big Ten games of the year to Penn State and Michigan State. Is this a troubling concern, or do you think Iowa can bounce back and get into contention for the Big Ten West?
I was personally never of the belief that Iowa would be contending in the Big Ten West because their schedule is an absolute gauntlet this season, but I know a lot of Iowa fans were optimistic because the Hawkeyes have a strong defense and QB Nate Stanley showed a lot of potential in the first couple games.
Since conference season started, though, it is apparent that Iowa has some pretty significant deficiencies they need to straighten out - the running game is atrocious, the wide receivers have struggled a bit with drops, and punting, a usual hallmark of a Ferentz-led football team, is not at all even average. The defense has largely lived up to expectations, but the offense needs to at least be average before they can be taken seriously as Big Ten West contenders.
2. Iowa has a really good RB in Akrum Wadley, but has struggled running the ball so far. Where do this issues stem from?
Simply put, the offensive line is not good at run blocking, which is surprising - Iowa returned four of five starters from 2016 this season, and the fifth played a pretty healthy amount last year as well. The group was terrible in pass protection, but won the Joe Moore Award on the strength of their run blocking, so people expected it to be a strength once again in 2017. So far, it's been the exact opposite - pass protection has been solid, while run blocking has been a weakness.
To a lesser extent, Wadley has not had someone to split time with for the majority of the season, which could be a cause to his poor production. Last year he was 1B to LeShun Daniels' 1A, and this year, he was supposed to split time with James Butler, a graduate transfer from Nevada. Butler suffered an elbow injury in Week 3 against North Texas and since then, Iowa's been reluctant to turn to their freshman backups to spell Wadley. It's hard to say how effective they would be behind this offensive line at this point, though.
3. Josey Jewell has been off to a monster start this season for the Iowa defense. What makes the linebacker so effective?
Jewell has great instincts and is extremely tough, but most of all, he doesn't give up on plays. The example from this season that I keep thinking of is against Wyoming - on this particular play, he follows the running back to one side of the field, and then when Josh Allen scrambles to the other side, Jewell is the first one there to wrangle him up. He's consistently been a workhorse for the Hawkeyes for the past few years, and always seems to be at the right place at the right time.
Bonus video: after intercepting Trace McSorley a couple weeks ago, he did McSorley's home run celebration right in his face. That's the good stuff.
4. If Illinois and Iowa were to start a trophy for their games, what should it be? Obviously something corn related. A gold plated ear of corn? From Illinois, of course.
I'll let the gold plated ear of corn be from Illinois, but the ear of corn has to be from Naperville, which is where most of the Illinois kids that go to Iowa are from. This also ensures that the corn is not from Nebraska, because to hell with that place anyway.
5. So Kirk Ferentz for 20 more years, yeah?
We like him here. Sometimes we don't, but we usually do. People are fed up with him right now because they feel as though the play-calling has been bad the past couple weeks, but those same people were praising him after the tear-inducing Tom Rinaldi video was aired on College GameDay. It's a game of give and take, but Iowa fans have never really had a gripe with Kirk Ferentz being around forever - the gripe has been with AD Gary Barta, who dished out the extension with a horrific buyout.
dangit i just watched that video again, who cut the onions
6. Prediction time. Who wins this game?
Have to go with Iowa in this one. Their offense hasn't been good, but a date with Illinois at home should be just the right medicine to get things back on track. Even if the offense isn't able to get things going, the defense should be fine against the worst offense in the Big Ten. Stanley throws two touchdowns, Wadley scores one, and the defense holds Illinois to one touchdown.
Iowa 24, Illinois 10.
Thanks again to Black Heart Gold Pants and Max Brekke for taking the time.