Iowa Football

Play Action: Iowa Hawkeyes at Illinois Fighting Illini

My vote for first-team all-Big Ten tight end is hurdler T.J. Hockenson

Illinois hosts Iowa this Saturday at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, Ill. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Illinois hosts Iowa this Saturday at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, Ill. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

Iowa (6-4, 3-4 Big Ten) travel to Champaign, Ill., for a matchup with Illinois (4-6, 2-5). After starting 2-0, the Fighting Illini have lost six of eight games.

Math says the Illini need to win their final two for a chance at a bowl bid. Iowa has a bowl bid and in the final two games of the season, it has a chance to ... play two more games this season.

Kickoff is 2:30 p.m. at Memorial Stadium. The game is on BTN.

The Illini Vibe

1. Illinois seems pretty good at running the football — I wrote here last week that Northwestern had little or no running game. And then the Wildcats dumped 184 yards on 46 carries on the Hawkeyes. I’d love to know the winning percentage of teams that are able to hit 40 rushes in a game, by the way.

Illinois can do this.

The Illini lead the nation in rushing this month, going for 813 yards (9.68 yards on 84 carries and 10 TDs). Running back Reggie Corbin (5-10, 190) sets up a defense and sees all of the levels with quickness and cutting ability that will remind you of Akrum Wadley.

Corbin has four plays of 70-plus yards. He has 1,011 yards and nine TDs.

2. And the O-line has improved — This will be the hill for Illinois to climb. Iowa’s defensive line was battered last week, but it’s healthy and really only has been woodshedded twice this season — Northwestern and Wisconsin (210 yards, 44 carries).

All of the O-linemen are from Illinois and it has helped produce the No. 8 rush attack in the nation (262.8 yards per game) and the most improved. Illinois averages 157.2 more yards per game than last year.


3. The defense is ... a work in progress — Yes, the efficiency numbers are more important. They measure successful plays for an offense and a defense, obviously. But the raw total defense for Illinois is problematic.

The Illini allow 532.9 yards a game. That’s 128th in the nation.

The yards have turned into points. The Illini are 118th in points per play (.537). Points per play? Think of it like this: The top four teams in this stat are Clemson, Alabama, Fresno State and Michigan. Fresno State? Shhh, the Bulldogs are 8-2.

4. What the Illini defense does do well is takeaways — Illinois is tied with Iowa for second in the Big Ten with 14 interceptions. That’s tied for fifth in the nation. Illinois is 16th in total takeaways with 19 (again, tied with the Hawkeyes).

What’s the over/under on turnovers in this one?

5. Relevant numbers — In Big Ten games, the Illini have averaged 6.93 yards on 274 carries. On the flip side, Illinois has broken 200 yards passing just twice this season.

Illinois is second in the Big Ten with 28 rushes of 20-plus yards. Iowa is last with five.

What’s Happening With The Hawkeyes?

1. Reset button — Can a team hit reset? Actually, the better question here is has an Iowa team been able to reset itself in recent years?

The 2016 team fell 41-14 at Penn State and then beat No. 3 Michigan the next week 14-13 and won three games before crashing in the Outback Bowl vs. Florida (30-3). So, there’s a yes. Iowa finished the regular season with three wins in 2013.

It’s not out of the question. Still, that’s not going to be enough salve for Iowa people who got excited when this team was 6-1 and ranked a month ago. One more still, 6-1 was a month ago and has no bearing on whether or not the Hawkeyes will be able to run the ball or defend the run Saturday.

2. Let’s talk T.J. Hockenson — I feel like a little of the current deal has taken some of the shine off what sophomore T.J. Hockenson has done this season.


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He has 39 catches for 615 yards and four TDs. He averages 15.77 yards per catch. All fantastic. His blocking is what it needs to be and more on a lot of plays.

Let’s talk hurdling. I cringe when I see an offensive player strike that high hurdler pose. That thing with WR Ihmir Smith-Marsette on the kick return at Indiana looked frightening. But you do have to score cleared hurdle for Smith-Marsette.

I don’t normally condone “hurdling” as a technique, kind of like “bearing down.” (The worst football technique ever invented.)

But, T.J. Hockenson, you keep hurdling dudes. He measures it and gets that front leg up. It’s fun to watch. I’m sorry, but I like cool sports things, too.

My Associated Press all-Big Ten ballot came in the email on Thursday. My first-team tight end vote is going to be Hockenson and second-team will be Iowa’s Noah Fant over Purdue’s Brycen Hopkins. I expect it to be close, but Hockenson’s numbers lead Big Ten TEs and these awards are all about numbers.

I know there are going to be mean tweets. This isn’t personal. This is me picking the TE I think has had the best season in the Big Ten. That’s it. Mean tweets? In the words of Tony Soprano after his mom passed, “What are you gonna do?”

Former Iowa DT Jonathan Babineaux was screwed out of all-Big Ten in 2004. He was a monster. This is when we used to have the “walk off” interviews with Kirk Ferentz. He’d spend a little time with print reporters after the main press conference. Anyway, he said “Let’s see where Babineaux lands in the all-Big Ten picked in April,” meaning the NFL draft.


Well, Babineaux was a second-round pick and played 12 seasons for the Atlanta Falcons. Fant might get that kind of first-team all-Big Ten, the April kind (or March or May, whenever the draft is anymore).

3. Drive time — Iowa threw for ... Wait, wait, wait, I’m going to give it up for a second to Northwestern’s defense. Magnificent effort against Iowa last week. There were season lows.

Iowa did manage to throw for 269 yards, and quarterback Nate Stanley completed 65.9 percent of his passes (he was 65.6 vs. Purdue).

This season low isn’t readily apparent, but in 13 possessions against Northwestern, Iowa averaged a season-low 4.0 plays, season-low 34.0 yards per possession and a season-low 1:34 time of possession.

Iowa’s season averages are 7.8 plays, 53.8 yards and 3:29. That’s a crushed can of soda under the tire of a pickup.

4. Punting down — Colten Rastetter had a good thing going with punts that hit the ground and rolled Iowa’s direction.

Well, teams are on to it. You’re starting to see two returners whose jobs are “don’t let that baby roll.” Rastetter averaged 40-plus yards per punt for three straight games and was at a nearly 43-yard average.

The last three games have gone 37.0, 35.0 and 34.9. Currently, he’s 10th in the league at 39.85 yards per punt.


Ferentz said sophomore Ryan Gersonde might get a look this week. Gersonde will be able to play the final two games and preserve a redshirt season.

5. Relevant numbers — By the way, sophomore safety Geno Stone is tied for second in the Big Ten with four interceptions. He’s played in 22 games and has five career interceptions.


Iowa 38, Illinois 17

If they lose, Twitter account for sale.

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