116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — Iowa is in a rare position. With Alex Padilla and Spencer Petras both practicing, the Hawkeyes can leave Illinois guessing about who will start.
“I’ve got to be honest with you,” offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz said. “It’s kind of nice to be in that chair where you can play dumb like a fox and be a little coy about your quarterback situation.”
His father and boss, Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz, had that same coyness on Tuesday about who will start, but he did say Padilla has been taking the first-team practice reps.
With Padilla coming off two impressive games against Northwestern and Minnesota and working with Iowa’s first-team offense, he is the more likely starter.
Whether it’s Padilla or Petras at quarterback, here’s what to watch for during the Hawkeyes’ Senior Day game against the Illini.
Iowa offense vs. Illinois defense
Illinois’ defense is better than the Illini’s 4-6 record and 21.6 points allowed per game would suggest.
The Illini had a rough start to the year — they allowed more than 30 points in two of their first three games — but have shown improvements since.
Illinois has kept its last three opponents to 14.7 points per game. That includes holding the same Minnesota offense that scored 22 against Iowa to only six points.
Minnesota amassed more than 200 rushing yards in the first three quarters against Iowa before a couple sacks brought that number down to 189. The Gophers mustered just 89 rushing yards a week earlier against Illinois, though.
That’ll pose an interesting challenge for Iowa’s rushing attack.
Running back Tyler Goodson had a resurgent performance against Northwestern with 141 yards and 6.7 yards per carry, but he had just 59 yards on 3.3 yards per carry against a better Minnesota run defense.
Unlike Minnesota, Iowa has the benefit of an effective quarterback. Assuming Padilla starts, he’ll look to build on putting up Iowa’s first 200-yard passing day in over a month last week.
Meanwhile, no Big Ten West defense has allowed more yards per pass attempt than Illinois’ 7.45.
Iowa defense vs. Illinois offense
Iowa’s defense will face another offense that prefers to run the ball. The Illini have called running plays about 61 percent of the time in 2021.
With the exception of the first three quarters of the win over Minnesota, the Hawkeyes’ defense has been superb at slowing opposing rushing attacks. The unit’s 3.0 yards allowed per carry ranks second in the Big Ten behind Wisconsin.
The more Illinois has to throw the ball, likely the better for Iowa.
Illini quarterbacks have exceeded 100 passing yards in just one of their last six games.
Since the start of 2020, the Illini are 2-6 when Brandon Peters has to throw more than 10 passes.
What’s at stake
Iowa needs a win to keep its Big Ten West title aspirations alive. The Hawkeyes also need to win against Nebraska next week and have Wisconsin lose either to Nebraska or Minnesota — two teams the Badgers have consistently beaten in recent history.
Illinois, meanwhile, could become eligible to play in its second bowl game in the last seven seasons with a win against Iowa and then a win next week against Northwestern.
Illinois’ defense is good, but Iowa’s defense is better. Kirk Ferentz trusts that defense, too, so it’d be a little surprising to see the Hawkeyes run up the score.
Prediction — Iowa 21, Illinois 13
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