Iowa Football

Game Report: Iowa Hawkeyes 35, Illinois Fighting Illini 21

Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras sets up to pass during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Illinois
Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras sets up to pass during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Illinois Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020, in Champaign, Ill. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

A closer look at No. 19 Iowa’s 35-21 win over Illinois on Saturday at Memorial Stadium.

Turning point

Dane Belton was frustrated when a third-down pass bounced off his hands early in the third quarter. The Iowa defensive back made a great break on the ball. With wide-open space in front of him, he was probably envisioning a go-ahead pick-6.

The Iowa offense made sure it didn’t matter.

The Hawkeyes forcefully drove 70 yards on nine plays in 4:35 of game time, scoring on Spencer Petras’ 4-yard swing pass to Ihmir Smith-Marsette. Petras’ 2-point pass to Tyler Goodson made it 21-14 Hawkeyes with 8:24 to play in the third quarter.

The sequence was a continuation of how the first half ended, as Iowa scored 13 straight points after falling behind 14-0. Iowa’s defense forced three straight three-and-outs to end the half after giving up two touchdowns in three possessions to begin the game. And Petras started settling in, going 9-for-15 for 133 yards in the second quarter after a 1-of-3 start with a sack.

After the third-quarter-opening stop, Petras completed all four of his attempts on Iowa’s initial second-half possession for 39 yards and Goodson added 23 yards rushing on four carries to flip the scoreboard for good.



• Iowa is now 2-1 in games played on Dec. 5. The loss was more memorable, a 16-13 heartbreaker in the 2015 Big Ten Championship Game. The other win was against Kansas in 1891.


• With a 24-yard Brandon Peters pass to Daniel Barker in the first quarter, Illinois scored its first touchdown in a game against Iowa at Memorial Stadium since Nov. 15, 2014, when Reilly O’Toole found Mike Dudek with a 31-yard pass in the final minutes of a 30-14 Iowa win. The Hawkeyes shut out the Illini on the road 28-0 in 2016 and 63-0 in 2018.

• Iowa didn’t pick up a first down until its third possession of the game, when Goodson took a direct snap 10 yards on third-and-2 from the Iowa 19, but ended the game with 22 first downs to Illinois’ 20.

• Illinois intercepted at least three passes in both of its last two games, but Petras — for as inconsistent as his arm was — didn’t turn the ball over Saturday. With his three touchdown passes against the Illini, he now has more TDs through the air (7) than INTs (5) this season.

• Iowa’s decision to punt on fourth-and-9 from the Illinois 36 late in the third quarter paid off and ended up showing the gap in special teams play between the teams. Tory Taylor, standing at midfield on the snap, pinned the Illini at their 6 when his kick rolled out of bounds. The Illini got to their 25 but then started going backward. Chauncey Golston and Daviyon Nixon teamed up to sack Peters for an 8-yard loss on third-and-7. After a holding penalty, Charlie Jones scooped up the punt and returned it 18 yards to the Illini 32. Goodson burst through the line for a 16-yard run, then Petras fitted a perfect pass to Shaun Beyer for a 16-yard touchdown that was confirmed after review. It was the senior tight end’s first career TD and put Iowa up 28-14 with 12:40 to play.


• Here’s the kicker. Illinois backup kicker Caleb Griffin returned punts Saturday. He only returned one for 4 yards. The redshirt sophomore has kicked in one game in his career, against Purdue earlier this season. He made his only field-goal attempt (28 yards) and all three extra points.

By the numbers

5 — Iowa has won five straight Big Ten games for the first time since winning all eight in 2015 and the 2016 league opener.

8 — Peters completed his first eight passes of the game, including a pair of touchdowns. He went 2-for-10 after that and was replaced by Isaiah Williams with the Illini down 14 in the fourth quarter. Williams tossed a 29-yard consolation touchdown pass to Carlos Sandy in the final minute of the game.

14 — Iowa came back to win from a 14-point deficit for the first time since beating Michigan 24-21 on Nov. 23, 2013, after trailing 21-7. It’s the first time the Hawkeyes did it on the road since Nov. 3, 2007, against Northwestern, when they won 28-17 after falling behind 14-0.

31 — Smith-Marsette produced the longest run of the day with a 31-yarder in the fourth quarter. It was a reverse out of the wildcat formation, with Goodson handing off to Ivory Kelly-Martin, who flipped it to Smith-Marsette. Another Hawkeye receiver, Tyrone Tracy Jr., had the second-longest carry of the game (21 yards) two plays later with Goodson still in the wildcat. That set up Smith-Marsette’s 13-yard touchdown run on a jet sweep.


42 — At 42 degrees, this was the warmest temperature at kickoff for an Iowa-Illinois game in Champaign since it was 71 for a 27-24 Illinois win on Nov. 1, 2008. It was 38 degrees in 2018, 36 in 2016 and 30 in 2014, all Iowa triumphs by a combined 107 points.

87 — Iowa fullbacks and tight ends combined for 87 yards receiving in the second quarter. Fullback Monte Pottebaum recorded a 20-yard catch, Beyer had a 21-yard reception to set up a field goal and tight end Sam LaPorta caught two passes for 46 yards and a touchdown. LaPorta finished with 57 yards receiving, Beyer 37.

396 — Iowa gained 396 yards of offense in the final three quarters after managing just 28 in the opening frame. Illinois had 107 yards of offense in the first 15 minutes and 241 in the final 45.


Social summaries

From Twitter

“That was the season in a game.” — @TomKsobiech

“Tale of two Spencers.” — @danish_hawkeye

“A quarterback that went from an all-time bust to All-American in one game.” — @TimMelloy

“‘Twas the worst of times, ‘twas the best of time.” — @averagesalesguy

“Kirk claps back.” — @MrJRMcCarthy

Injury report

Iowa offensive linemen Mark Kallenberger and Coy Cronk were available but did not play. Kallenberger has missed back-to-back games after appearing to get rolled up on at Penn State. Cronk has not seen the field in five straight games.

Defensive end John Waggoner did not dress for the fourth-straight week. He was listed as the backup at right defensive end Monday.

Illinois lost defensive lineman Jamal Woods, linebacker Khalan Tolson and defensive back Nate Hobbs to first-half injuries.

Next game

Iowa hosts No. 16 Wisconsin (2-2) in the regular-season finale at Kinnick Stadium next Saturday at a time to be announced. The Badgers have won four straight in the series and seven of the last eight. Wisconsin, which has had three games canceled this season due to COVID-19, lost 14-6 to No. 12 Indiana on Saturday for its second consecutive defeat.

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