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TCR Staff Predictions: Illinois at Iowa

Can the Illini win at Kinnick for the first time since ‘99?

NCAA Football: Illinois at Minnesota Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

Thumpasaurus: Iowa 17, Illinois 6

Maybe I’m emotionally hedging. Maybe I just anticipate a lot of overly optimistic predictions from the rest of the staff and want to urge caution. Maybe I feel like someone has to taper the football euphoria a little bit right here in order to provide a fuller picture of what we’re likely to see. Illinois certainly has a path to victory, but Iowa is a better team. What worries me is that this is the best defense the Illini will have faced outside of Wisconsin. Moving the ball is going to be a problem. The Iowa offense is certainly bad, but is not as one-dimensional as Penn State or Minnesota. They’re equally bad at running the ball and throwing the ball, but so too was Rutgers.

Where Iowa has been beating teams has been in generating turnovers and winning the field position battle with special teams. The good news is Illinois has been good at taking care of the football in their last couple of games with Brandon Peters at the helm, and the Illini special teams unit is good enough that Iowa shouldn’t be able to dominate the hidden yards category.

I’m anticipating an ugly struggle for field position where Iowa hits more big plays than Illinois. Bret Bielema is 14-2 coming off a bye in his career though, and I’m excited to see if he surprises his alma mater with some things on offense they haven’t seen before.

Matt Rejc: Iowa 20, Illinois 14

Putting predictions together for low-scoring affairs gets more and more difficult each week. But this is certainly an outing that I doubt tops 45 points overall one way or the other. Certainly Illinois has a penchant this year for beating teams when they have a head start and for defeating ranked teams on the road. But my guess is that Illinois’ luck runs out this week.

Quentin Wetzel: Illinois 14, Iowa 13

I’m typically not very aggressive in my predictions, rarely straying too far from the Vegas spread and over/under. But goshdernit, let’s get weird. I like Bret Bielema as a coach, but his biggest weakness is his game coaching (clock management, fourth down decisions, etc.). I never want anybody to get COVID, but it’s possible that Bielema being out will be helpful. Plus, the Illini have had an extra week to prepare and rest. We saw against Penn State just how helpful a bye week can be. And Iowa is certainly the better team, but the Hawkeyes have been relatively unimpressive recently; their average point differential over their last five games is -4.8. Illinois has two ranked road wins in its last three games. Why not a third?

Drew Pastorek: Illinois 20, Iowa 16

I was at Kinnick Stadium for last week’s Floyd of Rosedale game (wearing Hawkeye shit because happy wife, happy life yada yada) and Minnesota got whatever they wanted on the ground versus the vaunted IOWA DEFENSE. The Hawkeyes are disciplined and probably won’t allow Illinois to run for 200+ yards. However, this is one of the worst offenses of the Kirk Ferentz era — which is saying a lot. QB Alex Padilla threw for 206 yards last Saturday, but 72 of those came on one completion. The Hawkeyes’ receiving corps doesn’t get much separation, their running backs have been inconsistent, and their offensive line has been uncharacteristically leaky.

It defies explanation how Iowa managed to win last week — Minnesota held the ball for 40 minutes. Minnesota outgained Iowa 409-277. Iowa gained only 12 first downs and rushed for only 2.8 yards per carry. Minnesota ran 83 plays to Iowa’s 49. The Hawkeyes committed the game’s only turnover (though they did block a Gophers’ field goal).

Illinois has the pass rush, the o-line play, and the running backs to at least make this interesting. There’s no trophy on the line this week, no bronze pig to fight for. But Illinois & Iowa have a history dating back to 1899, which is not nothing. I’ll be at Kinnick again on Saturday, so I’ve talked myself into the Illini stealing one on the road. I’m (probably) an idiot.