Illini aim for 2-0 Big Ten start, first win at Iowa since 1999

Illini look to continue momentum following Nebraska win, but Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz has won 6 of last 7 against the Illini

Illinois (4-1, 1-0 B1G) at Iowa (5-0, 1-0)

Time: 11 a.m. CT

TV: ESPN2; Clay Matvick (play-by-play) and John Congemi (analyst))

Last week: Illinois defeated Nebraska 14-13; Iowa won at Wisconsin 10-6

Series: Illinois leads the all-time series 38-30-2; Illinois leads the series at Iowa 18-16-2; Iowa has won 6 of last 7

Vegas betting line: Iowa (-11), Over/under (44)

Illini depth chart

Injury Report: Ferguson officially OUT vs. Iowa

ALERT: Illini who must step up in Ferguson's absence

Not the normal 'gloom and doom': Cubit aims to get more fans to jump back on the bandwagon

Know Your Enemy: Hawkeye Insider publisher Derek Young breaks down the Hawkeyes

ALERT: Illini standouts from the Nebraska game

VIDEO: Ted Karras discusses o-line growth; big test vs. Hawkeyes

VIDEO: V'Angelo Bentley discusses defense's growth, returning punts

Upon Further Review: Illini offense continues to struggle in red zone, with drops

Big Ten Power Rankings: Illini back in top half

Number-crunching

  • 5: Sacks by Illinois defense, worst in the Big Ten and 11 fewer than Iowa.
  • 7: Interceptions by both Iowa and Illinois, tied for the lead in the Big Ten. Iowa has returned two interceptions for touchdowns.
  • 9: Consecutive Illini losses against AP Top-25 teams with their last victory coming Sept. 17, 2011, against No. 17 Arizona State. The Illini haven't beaten a ranked opponent on the road since beating No. 1 Ohio State 28-21 on Nov. 1, 2007.
  • 17: Years Kirk Ferentz has coached at Iowa, easily making him the longest tenured Big Ten coach. Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald (10 years) is the second longest-tenured.
  • 31: Three-and-outs forced by the Illini defense this season, tied for fifth-most in the Big Ten. The Illini forced 44 three-and-outs during the entire 2014 season.
  • 84.4: Rushing yards per game allowed by Iowa defense, second in Big Ten and 11th in the FBS.
  • 331: Career tackles for Illini senior linebacker Mason Monheim, 40 short of cracking the top-10 of the Illini career tackles list.
  • 453: Receiving yards by Geronimo Allison so far this season, leading the Big Ten and ranking in the top-20 in the FBS. He is 547 yards away from becoming the seventh Illini to top 1,000 receiving yards in a season. Injured teammate Mikey Dudek topped the 1,000-yard mark last season.
  • 1983: The last season Iowa and Illinois met with undefeated Big Ten records. Both teams were 1-0. Unranked Illinois defeated No. 4 Iowa 33-0 and went on to win the Big Ten title and play in the Rose Bowl.
  • 2011: The last season Illinois started 2-0 during conference play, though that team lost six straight to end the regular season.

Hawkeyes to watch

1. C.J. Beathard, QB: It's safe to say that the Iowa staff made the right decision in picking Beathard over Jake Rudock, who transferred to Michigan. While Rudock was at times a capable game manager, Beathard gives the Iowa offense the difference-maker it so sorely needs. He's got a bigger arm, has greatly improved his accuracy (64.1 percent), has limited mistakes (two interceptions) and gives an added running threat (163 rushing yards). Beathard did struggle against an elite Wisconsin defense (9-for-21, 77 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, 12 rushing yards) but he prolonged several drives with his legs.

2. Jordan Canzeri, RB: The 5-foot-9, 192-pound senior is tied with Ohio State's Ezekial Elliot for the Big Ten lead in touchdowns (eight) and is sixth in the conference in rushing yards (441, 5.0 ypc). Out of the I-formation, senior fullback Macon Plewa usually leads the way for Canzeri, who does a good job of reading his blocks. Canzeri's also a big threat in the passing game with 14 receptions (second on Iowa) for 159 yards. With receiver Tavean Smith out due to an injury, Canzeri is likely the Hawkeyes' biggest big-play threat.

3. Matt VandeBerg, WR:  The 6-foot-1, 180-pound sophomore has taken a big leap. Illini Geronimo Allison (32 receptions) is the only Big Ten player with more receptions than VandeBerg (31), though he's more of a possession target (9.8 yards per catch).

4. Drew Ott, DE: Defensive end Nate Maier (5.0 sacks) and defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson have made the Hawkeyes front four better than expected, but Ott is still the force for whom offenses must account. The 6-foot-4, 275-pound senior has been hampered by an arm injury but it hasn't hampered his production: 5.5 tackles for loss, 4.0 sacks and three forced fumbles.

5. Desmond King, CB: The 5-foot-11, 200-pound junior (and Big Ten Co-Defensive Player of the Week) is the best defensive back the Illini have played so far this season. He leads the Big Ten in interceptions (five) and passes defended (nine). He also is a dangerous returner.

Keys to the game

1. Hold position in the trenches: The Illini were absolutely dominated in the trenches against the Hawkeyes last season (304 Iowa rushing yards vs. 88 Illini rushing yards). The Illini offensive line has better protected Wes Lunt this season (five sacks allowed in five games) and has been serviceable in the run game. After getting run over for two seasons, the Illini defensive line looks like a middle-of-the-pack Big Ten front four -- a huge improvement. This is a big test for both groups. If they hold their own and compete well, like they did against Nebraska, Illinois could pull off the upset.

2. A big play: After relying on big plays to stay competitive the past few seasons, the Illini offense has been a dink-and-dunk outfit this season. Cubit has been able to play more conservative because of the improved defense, but you wonder if he pulls one out his bag of tricks to try to give the Illini a boost on the road. Also, can Lunt and his receivers hit on a few more long vertical throws -- like he did with Malik Turner at the end of the Nebraska game? His receivers have dropped or just come up short on a few big chances so far this season.

3. Kick back: The Illini won, so the story was minimized but the Illini specialists struggled mightily against Nebraska. Starting kicker Taylor Zalewski has made just twp of his last seven field goal attempts, the 51-yard game winner against Middle Tennessee. Punter Ryan Frain was pulled after struggling to punt into a stiff wind, and David Reisner struck a few well with the wind at his back. Iowa punter Dillon Kidd is second in the Big Ten in punt average (45.9 ypp), and kicker Marshall Koehn has made some big field goals. The Illini specialists have struggled with confidence the past two seasons. To pull off an upset, the Illini can't afford missed kicks or lost field position.

Illini in the spotlight

Offense

Ke'Shawn Vaughn, RB: Vaughn's role frew exponentially when starter Josh Ferguson left last week's game with a shoulder injury -- and Vaughn handled himself well. Once Ferguson left the game, the Illini staff never took Vaughn (98 rushing yards on 24 carries) out of the game. Expect backup Henry Enyenihi to get a series or two, but Vaughn will be the bell-cow back. He's run like a veteran, so that's not a big concern other than if he can make a big play to spark a score. But how does he handle increased pass protection against the best collective front four the Illini have played so far this season?

Defense

Dawane Smoot, LEO: The 6-foot-3, 270-pound junior is in the midst of a breakout season. Outside of the North Carolina game, he's pressuring the quarterback (4.0 sacks) and disrupting the run (8.5 tackles for loss). The Illini will need someone to bother Beathard (and contain him) and force a turnover. Smoot can further establish himself as the Illini defense's biggest playmaker by doing so.

Prediction

The next step for the Illini to add more to the bandwagon is a road upset, and while Iowa is a good team coming off a great win at Wisconsin -- the Hawkeyes do not appear to be a juggernaut. The Illini played its worst game of the season in a 48-14 loss at North Carolina last month. Without a home crowd to fuel them, a few early mistakes compounded into more mistakes at Chapel Hill. Can the Illini withstand a few early mistakes in front of a hostile, rowdy Iowa homecoming crowd?

Iowa's offense is physical and Beathard is a more dangerous weapon than recent Iowa quarterbacks, but the Hawkeyes don't have a lot of big-play threats outside of Canzeri. If theIllini defense can hold the point of attack and disrupt a few plays up front, it should give the Illini offense a chance. Without his two best weapons -- Josh Ferguson and Mikey Dudek -- there will be even more pressure on Illini quarterback Wes Lunt. Yet, he's been pretty darn good this season, and the offensive line has done a pretty good job of keeping him clean. For the Illini to win, the wide receivers will have to make positive big plays and severely cut the dropped passes (36 through five games). I don't trust them enough yet.

Iowa 27, Illinois 20


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