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Illinois vs. Iowa position group report card

NCAA Football: Illinois at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

A change at quarterback didn’t change recent trends for the Illinois football team, as the Illini lost their third consecutive game Saturday, 45-16 against Iowa.

Illinois (2-3, 0-2 Big Ten) was outscored 21-0 in the fourth quarter to turn what was a close game into a laugher pretty quickly. Let’s see how each position group fared for the Illini in the loss:

Quarterbacks

Grade: D

Jeff George Jr.’s first start of the season showed signs of promise but ultimately disappointed with four turnovers, including three interceptions. It’s one thing to force balls into coverage but George Jr. hit Iowa defenders right between the numbers, including a pick that was returned 89 yards for a touchdown to put the Illini further behind in the second half.

George Jr. completed 22 of 45 passes for 246 yards and added three rushes for seven yards. He was able to spread the ball around — nine different players caught passes for the game — and get the ball down the field for long gains that weren’t part of the offense when Chayce Crouch was at the controls.

Speaking of Crouch, the junior saw time at tight end and hauled in a seven-yard catch.

Running backs

Grade: B+

The Illini again used a committee approach when running the ball, as Reggie Corbin, Mike Epstein and Ra’Von Bonner all had at least seven carries, and the Illini piled up 200 yards rushing as a team.

Epstein was the most effective, racking up 83 yards on seven carries, including a 58-yard scamper. He left the game in the second half with a lower body injury and did not return.

Bonner received the most carries with 12 and also broke free for the Illini’s only touchdown for the game. Corbin was also dynamic by averaging nearly nine yards per carry and showed off some of his tantalizing elusiveness that he showcased last season.

An ongoing mystery continues to be Kendrick Foster, who didn’t have any touches Saturday and seems to be totally phased out of the game plan offensively.

Wide receivers

Grade: C

The pass catchers were called upon more often than weeks past and didn’t disappoint. Freshman Louis Dorsey led the team with 75 yards receiving, including receptions of 40 and 31 yards.

Carmoni Green had a team-high four catches, though he was limited to only 28 yards. Mike Dudek was similarly held in check, amassing just 20 yards on three receptions.

Offensive line

Grade: B+

This group somehow got even younger as Lovie Smith called upon four freshmen to play the majority of the snaps along the line: Verdarian Lowe, Doug Kramer, Larry Boyd and Alex Palczewski.

The group gave George Jr. time to throw consistently and was able to open up running lanes for much of the day.

This group of players seemed to gel well as a unit, which is the biggest battle when trying to successfully put together an offensive line. I would like to see the freshmen play for the rest of the season because they have a chance to be really, really good with more time and experience.

Defensive line

Grade: D+

It’s probably not good when the entire Illinois defense had a grand total of one tackle for loss for the game, and it came from freshman Nate Hobbs on a corner blitz.

The Illinois defensive line surrendered 191 yards on the ground to an Iowa team that managed a meager 19 yards rushing against Michigan State the week before.

Kenyon Jackson and Tito Odenigbo led the unit with three tackles apiece, while James Crawford and Tymir Oliver each had a quarterback hurry.

Linebackers

Grade: C-

Del’Shawn Phillips and Tre Watson had five tackles each but neither really jumped off the screen in a good way.

As mentioned above, Illinois had only one tackle for loss for the game and that allowed Iowa to consistently be in manageable down and distance situations.

Overall, just a blah game from this group.

Secondary

Grade: B

Bennett Williams snagged an interception to give Illinois life and Stanley Green forced a fumble that fellow safety Patrick Nelson recovered and returned for 20 yards.

Nelson led all Illinois players with eight tackles, six solo, and also added a pass breakup.

The Illini played well for much of the game but the wheels started to come off in the fourth quarter to make the game look like a blowout with three consecutive scores.

Special teams

Grade: F

Iowa dominated this phase of the game by recovering an onside kick and successfully executing a fake punt just before halftime to take a lead it would not relinquish.

The fake punt completely changed the dynamic of the game, as the Hawkeyes went into the locker room with the lead and momentum. It was shocking just how easily Iowa converted the fake punt — when punting from the Illinois side of the field, the idea of a fake has to be on everyone’s mind. But the Illini were caught sleeping and it bit them.