Iowa Football

Iowa vs. Illinois Game Report: Grades, numbers, notes, injuries and more

Hawkeyes stop Fighting Illini in home finale, 19-10

IOWA CITY — It wasn’t easy, but the 17th-ranked Iowa Hawkeyes managed to overcome Illinois, 19-10, Saturday afternoon at Kinnick Stadium. Here’s a closer look at the game:

PLAY OF THE GAME

THE SETUP — Iowa is nursing a 13-7 lead late in the third quarter. You can feel some tension building in the crowd. Everyone expected things to be in hand by this point. The Hawkeyes have a second-and-9 at their own 45.

WHAT HAPPENED — Quarterback Nate Stanley is done. Or at least it appears that way. An Illinois blitzer comes unblocked up the gut and has Stanley dead in his sights. He tackles the QB for about a loss of 10 yards. Though he really doesn’t. Somehow Stanley powers out of the sure sack, spins and rolls to his left. Wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette alertly notices Stanley’s magic act, and does what he’s taught: keep trying to get open. He runs past an Illinois cornerback and into the open.

THE RESULT — Stanley sees Smith-Marsette deep and lets a pass go on the run. Smith-Marsette flags it down for a rather remarkable 40-yard gain to the Illinois 15. A field goal eventually follows, and Iowa has a two-score lead of 16-7.

GRADES

Marc Morehouse — B: I wanted to grade this “FG,” but that’s not a real grade, so ...

Mike Hlas — A-minus: Geno Stone rocks.

Jeff Johnson — B: Of all the games at all the levels I’ve covered in 30 years at The Gazette ... this was certainly one of them.

BY THE NUMBERS

58,331 — Attendance at Kinnick Stadium. That’s the smallest crowd for an Iowa home game since 56,041 fans attended the North Texas game in September 2015.

121 — Receiving yards for Smith-Marsette. That’s a career high.

12 — Tackles for Iowa linebacker Kristian Welch. That’s a career high.

8 — This will be the fifth straight season with at least that many victories for Iowa. Iowa has a dozen eight-win campaigns since 1999.

5 — Number of 300-yard passing games for Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley. The fifth came Saturday.

Notes

• Iowa honored 17 seniors and their parents prior to Saturday’s game. Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz and his wife, Mary, stood in for the parents of defensive back-wide receiver Devonte Young, who were attending a college soccer game of one of their other children in Maryland.

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“My parents were like ‘You need to choose which games we go to,’” Young said. “I told them to go to my last game, which is the bowl game, because that’s the last game I’m going to be here.”

Young said he talked to Iowa’s Player Development Director Broderick Binns about his mother and father being unable to come.

“He was like ‘We’ll just have one of the position coaches represent out there for you,’” Young said. “I was like ‘Give me the head man. I want Coach Ferentz out there.’”

So that’s what he got. Mary Ferentz sported his No. 17 jersey and gave him a big hug as they met at midfield.

“Just a very special moment,” Young said.

• Iowa’s A.J. Epenesa got “The Question.” Sort of.

The junior defensive end wasn’t explicitly asked if he is going to enter the NFL Draft after this season. Ferentz politely asked reporters at his weekly Tuesday press conference not to bombard his players with that stuff until the regular season ends.

But Epenesa was asked if he caught himself reflecting as he left the Kinnick Stadium field Saturday afternoon. You know, just in case this was it at home.

“I will focus on that in December,” he replied. “I haven’t put any thought into the NFL. Obviously, the NFL is enticing ... But right now, there’s a job to do.”

• Ferentz notched his 96th Big Ten Conference victory, which placed him in a tie with his Iowa predecessor Hayden Fry for fourth all-time in the league. This win moved him out of a tie with Penn State’s Joe Paterno.

Ferentz, of course, got his big college coaching break when Fry hired him as an assistant in 1981.

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“I applied for three jobs that spring in 1981,” Ferentz said. “One at Appalachian State, no interview. One at Hawaii, I got a phone call. The guy said ‘Hey, we need somebody that knows the West Coast.’ I don’t even know why he called me. That was stupid, but he did. But I’ve never forgotten that, and I’ve tried to carry that with me and remember it, and I’m a fan of his.

“The other one was Coach Fry. My mentor Joe Moore talked him into interviewing me. There’s never been a master plan (with this). It’s just kind of dumb luck, and I’m glad I’m lucky.”

• Iowa’s honorary captain Saturday was cornerback Desmond King of the Los Angeles Chargers. King played at Iowa from the 2013 season through the 2016 season. He was a fifth-round draft pick of the Chargers in 2017 and was a first-team All-Pro in 2018.

• Illinois’ top receiver Josh Imatorbhebhe transferred in from USC. He is from Suwanee, Ga., and attended North Gwinnett High School, the same high school that produced Iowa true freshman running back Tyler Goodson.

Iowa’s Paulsens (offensive linemen Landan and Levi) weren’t the only twin brothers on the field Saturday. Henry Marchese is a redshirt sophomore special teams player and backup defensive back-wide receiver for Iowa. His twin brother, Michael, is a junior special teamer and backup special teams guy for Illinois. The brothers are from Vernon Hills, Ill., and Stevenson High School. Their father, John, was a running back at Iowa in the mid-1980s.

• Press box dignitaries included a scout from the Holiday Bowl and representatives from the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons and Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings rep was George Paton, the club’s Assistant General Manager/Vice President, Player Personnel.

Injury report

Michael Ojemudia returned to the starting lineup at right cornerback with a flourish, intercepting a Brandon Peters pass on Illinois’ first offensive possession of the game. Ojemudia missed last week’s game against Minnesota with an injury incurred in the game against Wisconsin two weeks ago.

Wide receiver Brandon Smith missed another game as he continues to try and get back from an ankle injury suffered against Purdue in mid-October.

Iowa appeared to come out of this one without any other significant injuries.

Up next

It’s the regular-season finale for Iowa, perhaps the season finale for Nebraska. The Black Friday game is at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Neb., and kicks off at 1:30 p.m. Big Ten Network has the telecast. The Cornhuskers beat Maryland on Saturday to get to 5-6 and need a win against Iowa to become bowl eligible.

Comments: (319) 398-8259; jeff.johnson@thegazette.com

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