Nate Stanley and a handful of other seniors played their final game at Kinnick Stadium today. The result was a 19-10 win for the Iowa football team.
The first two drives of the game – a Tyler Goodson TD, then a Peters pass intercepted by Ojemudia – erroneously made me believe that this game was the beginning of another 63-0 Illinois destruction by the Iowa football team.
It didn’t play out like that though.
Like every other game against a bowl-eligible team, this game was close in the first half. Iowa football, turning the ball over once on an errant throw and missing two field goals, still found themselves up 13-7 at halftime.
The second half started with Brandon Peters driving Illinois down the field. A flea-flicker turned interception put the Hawkeyes back into a favorable position.
The offense, like it has all year, failed to make the opponent pay for giving Iowa the ball back, and the ground game didn’t work against a team that clearly emphasized defending it.
Nate Stanley, as perfect as he was on the game’s first drive, was extremely hit or miss for the next two quarters.
I am a Nate Stanley apologist. I think he has represented himself incredibly well as a Hawkeye in every single facet, but the first three-quarters of Senior Day did not exhibit how I wanted his last game at Kinnick to go.
Then, with just over a minute and half left in the third quarter, Nate Stanley made a play reminiscent of the guy that beat Ohio State 55-24. Still, Iowa’s struggles to finish drives with touchdowns continued.
Iowa football is still lacking production in the red zone. Sam LaPorta, Tyler Goodson, and Tyrone Tracy Jr are all freshmen. If the Hawks want more offensive success in the future, one of these guys needs to develop into someone that can be relied on inside the 20.
The Hawkeyes’ defense in the fourth quarter was ultimately what sealed the game against Wisconsin. Early in the fourth, it looked like history might be repeating itself.
Luckily, Iowa football was simply utilizing its bend-don’t-break defense. While allowing the Illini into the red zone, the Hawkeyes only yielded three points.
Iowa, on the ensuing drive, goes three-and-out to give Illinois a chance to take the lead.
Going into this game, I thought that the Wisconsin game was a perfect microcosm of Iowa football’s 2019 campaign. We played just enough defense to make it close at the end. However, when the game ended, Iowa was on the losing side of a game that wasn’t as close as it appeared.
Against a team that, by all measurements, looked inferior to the Hawkeyes, Iowa led by 6 with less than seven minutes left. Kristian Welsh then punched the ball out of Peters’ hand and broke the hearts of the Illinois faithful.
Iowa football drove all the way to the 22 and on a 3rd and 3, Stanley kept the ball on a read-option to get the first down. For the first time during this game, I audibly acknowledged a really good and innovative offensive call.
The Hawkeyes still wound up settling for 3, giving Keith Duncan the Big Ten single-season record for field goals made.
Iowa’s defense forced what looked like a three-and-out against Illinois. A review almost gave the Illini another chance (while also disqualifying Geno Stone for the first half in Lincoln), but Iowa was given the benefit of the doubt.
This game perfectly represented the season as a whole. The defense dominated most of the game, while the Hawkeye offense was quietly fueled by Nate Stanley.
Like I mentioned in an earlier article, this season could be considered both an achievement and a disappointment, and the same could be said for this specific game.
Iowa won this game, but they did so in one of the more unconvincing ways possible. Still, a win is a win and getting one against a decent team is something that fans should celebrate.
Iowa goes into the non-rivalry game against Nebraska with 8 wins and that is certainly better than entering that game with the potential of an eighth loss.