CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — At least it wasn't 63-0.
Illinois was unable to beat No. 19 Iowa (5-2) for the seventh straight time, as the Hawkeyes topped the Illini (2-4), 35-21, on Saturday afternoon at Memorial Stadium.
It was a tale of two halves for Illinois.
“Disappointing, of course, not to get the win, especially when you get off to a hot start like that,” said head coach Lovie Smith after the Homecoming loss.
The second-ranked rush offense in the Big Ten attacked Iowa’s defense though the air. Brandon Peters started the game 8-of-8 for 101 yards and two touchdowns.
But the rest of the game was a different story. Peters completed just two of his next 10 throws for 15 yards. Six punts in a row later, Isaiah Williams was in at QB for Illinois.
Williams provided a bit of a spark for the Illini offensively, but the team was stuck at 14 points after the first quarter. Williams connected for a 29-yard touchdown to Carlos Sandy with 24 seconds left in the game to get Illinois to 21, but it was too little too late.
“Thought we needed to do something a little different towards the end there,” Smith said. “So we put Isaiah [Williams] in there, and I thought he gave us a spark.”
Without Mike Epstein due to injury, sophomore Chase Brown carried the workload in the Illini backfield. The sophomore back finished with 18 carries for 83 yards. He was spelled by true freshman Reggie Love III, who added 13 yards on six carries.
The Illini reached the end zone first in the contest with a 21-yard dart thrown from Peters to Daniel Barker, following that up with a 12-yard touchdown to the sure-handed Josh Imatorbhebhe, but the scoring was hard to come by after that for the Illini.
The Illini defense was firing on all cylinders for Illinois early. A few sacks and great pressure kept Spencer Petras and the Hawkeyes out of rhythm until the second quarter. Losses of Jamal Woods, Khalan Tolson, Nate Hobbs and Sydney Brown left the defense shorthanded — with Delano Ware and Tarique Barnes out due to injury before the game even started.
“Injury-wise we had a couple of injuries show up, especially on the defensive side of the football,” Smith said. “Those hurt us. But anyway, disappointing.”
Iowa scored on three straight possessions — a touchdown and pair of field goals — to make the score 14-13 at half. They also opened the second half with a scoring drive and two point conversion. In the third quarter, the Illini offense stalled, allowing Iowa to take a 21-14 lead.
Iowa put the game out of reach with Petras’ third touchdown pass of the game, a 16-yard throw and catch to Shaun Beyer — after the Illini’s sixth straight punt. Ihmi Smith-Marsette ran the dagger in to the endzone with a 13-yard touchdown run.
“Couldn't stop them defensively, couldn't score on offense,” Smith said. “Pretty simple, really.”
The Illini seniors didn’t lose by that same 63-point margin as they did back in 2018, but the class still couldn't get over the hump against the Hawkeyes — who won their fifth straight overall.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
- Hot Start: After forcing a three-and-out on Iowa’s first possession, the Illini offense marched down the field in nine plays covering 70 yards. The drive was capped off with a 24-yard Daniel Barker touchdown from Brandon Peters.
- Call on the field has changed: Early in the second quarter, Brandon Peters lofted a 12-yard touchdown pass to Josh Imatorbhebhe. The call on the field was originally out of bounds, but after the review the Illini were awarded the score.
- Fourth and go: Iowa converted on a fourth-and-three in the second quarter to keep a drive a live. On the very next play, Sam LaPorta hauled in a 22-yard pass for a touchdown.
- Defensive stand: On back-to-back drives late in the first half, the Illini forced Iowa to kick field goals deep in their own zones. That preserved Illinois’ lead heading into the break.
- Fourth and no: With under eight minutes to go and the Illini down 14, the offense stayed on the field for a fourth-and-six in the Iowa red zone. Illinois was unable to convert as Williams’ pass sailed out of the end zone.
- Saturday’s game was the first time all season that an Illini quarterback started consecutive games.
- The Illini kept an opposing team off the scoreboard in the first quarter for the first time all season.
- The last time Illinois won a game in December was 2011.
- Illinois has not beaten Iowa since 2008.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
- The Illini sported the Galloping Ghost uniforms in honor of Red Grange.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
- Josh Imatorbhebhe was looking like Randy Moss on Saturday.
TWEET OF THE GAME
- We heard from former Illini running back Reggie Corbin to answer a puzzling question.
Lol he actually just catches them the best on the team! Crazy but true! https://t.co/oIIzU0PQ6K— Reggie Corbin (@TheWay2Drips) December 5, 2020
HE SAID IT
“It’s hard to do justice to what they’ve done to get to Senior Day,” said Lovie Smith on this year’s seniors. “They’ve done a lot to change how people look at Illinois Football.”
The Illini travel to Evanston next Saturday for a matchup with No. 14 Northwestern (5-1). The game-time and network has not yet been announced.