Iowa Football

Iowa football: 5 things to know about Illinois

Illini have won 2 straight since 0-3 start, but Ohio State game was canceled

Illinois quarterback Brandon Peters, throwing behind the block from offensive lineman Kendrick Green, is back in the lin
Illinois quarterback Brandon Peters, throwing behind the block from offensive lineman Kendrick Green, is back in the lineup after missing three weeks with a positive COVID-19 test. (Associated Press)
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Iowa, newly minted as the 24th-ranked team in the country, hits the road this week for a quick trip to Champaign, Ill.

The Illini haven’t played since a 41-23 win at Nebraska on Nov. 21, the same team the Hawkeyes beat at home on Black Friday, 26-20.

Illinois (2-3) has had time to heal after last home Saturday’s game against Ohio State was postponed by, what else, COVID-19 concerns.

’Tis the season. ’Tis this season.

Illinois owns a 38-35-2 edge in this series, but Iowa has won six in a row, including a 63-0 blasting the last time the Hawkeyes visited Champaign, in 2018.

Here are 5 Things about the Illini.

1. Illinois has recovered from 0-3 start

Illinois has won two in a row after losing its first three games.

But that’s a little bit deceiving, of course. Ohio State likely would have snapped that streak last week.

After losses to Wisconsin, Purdue and Minnesota, the Illini beat Rutgers and Nebraska — both on the road. Illinois dominated the Huskers in Lincoln, getting stellar games from quarterback Brandon Peters and running backs Mike Epstein and Chase Brown. Peters completed 18 of 25 passes for 205 yards and a touchdown, Epstein rushed for 113 yards and TD and Brown 110 yards and two TDs.

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Brown averages 71.4 yards per game, Epstein 67.6 and the Illini rank second in the Big Ten in rushing yards per game (222.4).

Peters has played just two games and has completed 26 of 44 passes for 292 yards.

Illinois ranks 12th in the Big Ten in scoring (21.8 ppg), eighth in points allowed (32), eighth in total offense {381.8 ypg) and 13th in total defense (448.2).

2. A look at the Illinois quarterbacks

As mentioned above, Peters has played in just two games after sitting out 21 days for a positive COVID-19 test.

A 6-foot-5 senior from Avon, Ind., Peters started 11 games last season (he missed two because of injury) after transferring from Michigan. He completed 152 of 275 passes for 1,884 yards. Against the Hawkeyes in 2019 — a 19-10 Iowa win at Kinnick Stadium — he completed 16 of 31 for 125 yards with a TD and two interceptions.

Isaiah Williams was the listed backup earlier this season, but also was pulled from the Wisconsin game for contact tracing. Washington has played in three games, completing 7 of 21 passes for 104 yards. Matt Robinson, the third-stringer, has played in two games and completed 3 of 4 passes for 22 yards.

Coran Taylor got the most reps in Peters’ absence, completing 23 of 46 for 379 yards in two games.

As a group, Illinois’ QBs have completed 59 of 115 passes for 797 yards with four touchdowns and three interceptions.

3. Jake Zweig: The most interesting man ...

Remember those beer commercials? Well Illinois has an assistant coach who fits that description — and it’s not fiction.

Jake Zweig is listed as “director of man development” on the Illini website. He was Coach Lovie Smith’s special teams coordinator for two years before assuming this role.

He has coaching experience at Findlay, Incarnate Word, Bryant, New Hampshire, Iona, Catholic University of America and Maryland. He played nose guard and wrestled at the Naval Academy.

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A Navy SEAL, Zweig is a “results-driven leader who has brought the standards of excellence in teamwork, focus and toughness from his former world ... (he) utilizes proven motivational techniques and sincere mentorship to develop his players into tomorrow’s leaders. His unique background blends the intensity of his military Special Forces training with his commitment to the success of his football team.”

A native of Steilacoom, Wash., Zweig was a state wrestling champion and a golfer in high school, as well as a football player. He co-hosted “Dude You’re Screwed” on the Discovery Channel and competed in “Top Shot” on the History Channel.

In his “off the clock time,” he also “enjoys competing in physical and mental challenges” — like scuba diving and parachuting.

4. Owen Carney, Jr.: The disrupter

Defensive end Owen Carney, Jr., can do plenty of harm to opposing offenses.

The 6-3, 260-pound senior from Miami leads the Big Ten with 4.5 sacks, an average of 1.13 per game. He is third in tackles for loss with 6.5, an average of 1.63 per game.

5. Illinois football history lesson

Like most Big Ten programs, Illinois has a rich football past. It’s just that the recent past hasn’t been too kind.

Illinois has produced such great players as Red Grange and Dick Butkus and it has won 15 Big Ten titles, although nine came when the Big Ten was known as the Western Conference. Illinois also has five national titles — four under the direction of Bob Zuppke.

Zuppke had a modest 76-66-8 conference record from 1913 to ’41, but his 131 career wins (against 81 losses and 11 ties) rank first in school history. Zuppke’s Illini won national titles in 1914, ’19, ’23 and ’27. Three of those teams were unbeaten.

Illinois’ last national title was in 1951 under Ray Elliott, a 9-0-1 team that won the 1952 Rose Bowl. 40-7, over Stanford.

Comments: (319) 398-8416; jr.ogden@thegazette.com

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