Iowa football travels to Champaign to take on Illinois this Saturday. Here are three things to watch and a prediction for the game.
The No. 19 Iowa Hawkeyes (4-2) will look to extend their six-game winning streak against the Illinois Fighting Illini (2-3) on Saturday at Memorial Stadium. Kickoff is set for 2:30 pm CT on FS1.
Illinois leads the all-time series between the two teams, but current coach Lovie Smith has never defeated the Hawkeyes (0-4). Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz has an 11-3 career record against the Illini. The Hawkeyes have won 11 of the last 12 games in the series.
Iowa is coming off four straight victories overall and is ranked in the AP top-25 for the second straight week. Here’s what to watch against Illinois:
1. How many quarterbacks will Illinois utilize? Does it matter?
Brandon Peters figures to get the start, but the Illini have used multiple quarterbacks this season. Peters finished 18-of-25 for 205 yards and a touchdown against Nebraska two weeks ago, the last time Illinois played. It was his first action since Week 1.
“This is like week three where we are probably going to see two quarterbacks,” said Ferentz on Tuesday. “So that is a little bit of a challenge for our defense for sure. It’s one more thing to try to be ready for and prepared for.”
Four different quarterbacks have played this season for Illinois, including Peters, Coran Taylor, Isaiah Williams and Matt Robinson. Each has appeared in at least two games. Collectively, they’ve thrown for just 787 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions with a 51.3 percent completion rate in five games.
2. Spencer Petras must take advantage of a weak Illinois secondary
Everyone knows Petras has had his fair share of struggles this season, but there’s no excuse not to perform against one of the worst secondaries in the Big Ten on Saturday.
Illinois’ two starting cornerbacks (Devon Witherspoon and Nate Hobbs) are ranked 121st and 217th, respectively, among all FBS corners, according to PFF. Safety Tony Adams (91st) is the highest-rated among all secondary players for Illinois. Free safety Sydney Brown, who’s utilized as a slot cornerback at times, is ranked 267th among all safeties.
As a team, Illinois surrenders 253.6 passing yards per game, which ranks 91st out of 127 qualifying FBS teams. Meanwhile, Iowa averages slightly under 192 passing yards. The Hawkeyes don’t need Petras to be perfect in order to win this game, but it’d be nice to see some growth from Iowa’s starting quarterback.
3. The Hawkeyes must be more efficient in the running game
Tyler Goodson has rushed for 100 yards in three of his last four games. Iowa will need that type of production again on Saturday, especially after the scare we saw last week against Nebraska. Goodson eclipsed the 100-yard mark against the Huskers, but it took 30 carries to get there. He averaged just 3.7 yards per carry on the day. As a team, Iowa averaged 2.9 yards per carry – much lower than their 4.6 season average.
Part of the reason Iowa has been able to get by with Petras at quarterback this season is due to the success we’ve seen in the running game. If the Hawkeyes get down at any point in this game, they could be forced to lean on Petras through the air. The Huskers put tons of pressure on Iowa’s young quarterback after committing to stopping the run. Can the Hawkeyes’ running backs sustain that type of game plan if Illinois does the same?
Prediction: Iowa 27, Illinois 20
The Hawkeyes don’t cover the spread (-13.5) but still win by a touchdown. Iowa’s defense proves to be too stout for Illinois’ carousel of quarterbacks. The defense forces a couple turnovers to give Iowa’s offense excellent field position. In the end, this comes down to whether the Hawkeyes’ running game can get going again.