Iowa Football

Iowa-Illinois Game Report: Grades, numbers, notes and more

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — A closer look at Iowa's 63-0 win over Illinois Saturday at Memorial Stadium.

Play of the game

The Set Up: Iowa already had a 14-0 lead. You thought the Hawkeyes would have to wait long enough for the defense to force a three-and-out for another chance to score.

You were wrong. Well, a lot of people were wrong. This play was really cool and kind of freakish.

Cool and freakish, sort of fitting for Iowa sophomore defensive end A.J. Epenesa. He’s good at football. Really good.

It was first down and disaster to go for the Illini.

What Happened: There was the question of who stripped the ball from Illinois running back RaVon Bonner.

Sophomore defensive end Chauncey Golston broke through for the tackle for loss and it looked like he forced out the ball.

At first, the official box score credited it that way.

But replay clearly shows Epenesa tracking the play, driving by and simply flipping the ball out of Bonner’s arms as Golston dragged him to the ground.

From there, Epenesa scooped and scored. It was a 19-yard return.


The Result: This gave the Hawkeyes a 21-0 lead. It was already over, these were just the cool stunts.

Epenesa-a-lanche: Iowa DE put a season into 2 minutes against Illinois

Epenesa is from Edwardsville, Ill., and had 120 to 150 family and friends in attendance.

Look for the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week deal on Monday.

— Marc Morehouse, The Gazette


Marc Morehouse: B

No “A.” Illinois is a crusty booger.

Mike Hlas: A

For an explanation of this grade, I refer you to the final score.


A songwriter originally from Big Ten country, Mr. Bob Dylan of Hibbing, Minn., had a lyric that could have summarized this day for the Hawkeyes.

Life is sad

Life is a bust

All ya can do is do what you must

You do what you must do and ya do it well

I’ll do it for you

Honey baby, can’t you tell?

After a three-game losing streak that left Iowa sad and out of Big Ten West title contention, all it could do Saturday at Illinois’ Memorial Stadium was do what it must. It did what it must do and it did it well, pummeling the Fighting Illini, 63-0.

• Nate Stanley threw an interception on the second offensive play of the game, and a “Here we go again” vibe spread through the Hawkeye fans in the stadium and beyond. That negativity vanished almost as fast as pizza in a press box.

Iowa scored a touchdown on its third possession and on three others in the first half, and got a defensive TD to boot in building a 35-0 halftime lead.

This was cold carnage.

• Hawkeye tight ends, held out of the end zone against Northwestern the week before, had three TDs by halftime. Noah Fant escaped from a perceived limbo (1 catch for 0 yards and a lot of time spent on the sideline the week before in Iowa’s 14-10 loss to Northwestern) and got the game’s first score on a 9-yard pass with 6:20 left in the first quarter. T.J. Hockenson had two second-quarter catches, both for TDs.


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• The first time a Hawkeye touched the ball in the second half was when Miguel Recinos kicked off for a touchback. The second time was when Kyle Groeneweg returned a punt 61 yards for a touchdown, the first Iowa punt return for a score since Riley McCarron did it at Illinois two years ago.

• Iowa still had a mathematical chance to tie for first place in the Big Ten West’s final standings entering Saturday, but needed a lot of help from its less-equipped friends.

No such luck. Minnesota didn’t oblige and lost at home to Northwestern, so the Wildcats will finish alone in first. C’est la vie.

• The only bowl that had a seat reserved in the press box here was the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl. That bowl rep was either a no-show, or sat out in the cold with the hoi polloi. “No-show” seemed a safer bet.

By the numbers

5 — Iowa has beaten Illinois five straight times, for the second time in this millennium and the second time ever.

15 — The Hawkeyes got interceptions from Michael Ojemudia, Amani Hooker and Kristian Welch, giving them 15 in the last seven games.

37 — The Hawkeyes opened a second-quarter possession with a 37-yard pass from Stanley to Fant and closed it on a 37-yard pass from Stanley to Hockenson.

42.6 — The Hawkeyes averaged 42.6 points in road games this season, 213 in five games. They have averaged 22.3 points at home.


63 — The 63 points was Iowa’s largest margin of victory under Kirk Ferentz.

63 — This was the third time this season Illinois allowed 63 points in a game.

63 — This matched the most lopsided defeat in Illinois football history. The Illini lost 63-0 to Chicago in 1906.

121 — Mekhi Sargent became the first Hawkeye to rush for 100 yards in a game this season. He had 17 carries for 121 yards and two touchdowns.

150 — On his fourth try, Kirk Ferentz got his 150th win as Iowa’s coach.

813 — Illinois had 813 rushing yards over its previous two games. It had 149 here.

33,313 — That was the announced crowd. The six games at Memorial Stadium this season drew a total of 216,907 fans for an average of 36,151. The Illini also played a September game against South Florida at Chicago’s Soldier Field. That had a paid attendance of 21,725.

Injury report

Iowa starting offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs was helped off the field midway through the third quarter after hurting an ankle. He didn’t return to the game, but Iowa’s radio crew said the injury wasn’t serious.

Running back Ivory Kelly-Martin (ankle) did not play.


Wide receiver Brandon Smith returned Saturday after missing the previous week’s game while in concussion protocol and caught three passes.

Fullback Brady Ross’ extended absence with an ankle injury reached another week. He may be back next week.

Up next

Iowa (7-4, 4-4) plays Nebraska (4-7, 3-5) Friday at 11 a.m. at Kinnick Stadium. The Huskers have won four of their last five games. They kicked three fourth-quarter field goals Saturday to beat Michigan State 9-6 in Lincoln.

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We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.