Preview & Pick: Iowa at Illinois

In home finale, Illini aim for first win over Kirk Ferentz, Hawkeyes since 2008

Iowa (6-4, 4-3 Big Ten) at Illinois (3-7, 2-5 B1G)

Time: 11 a.m. CT

TV: BTN -- Scott Graham (play by play), J Leman (analyst), Rick Pizzo (sideline)

Series: Illinois leads the all-time series 38-31-2, but Iowa has won 7 of last 10 against Illinois. The two programs have only played twice since 2009 with Iowa winning both (30-14 in 2014 and 29-20 in 2015).

Vegas betting line: Wisconsin (-10)

Last week: Iowa beat No. 2 Michigan 14-13 at home; Illinois lost 48-3 at No. 7 Wisconsin

Numbers to know

.936: Red-zone offense percentage for Iowa (29-for-31), which leads the Big Ten and ranks fourth in the country.

3: Iowa Hawkeyes who won Big Ten Player of the Week honors last week. Senior DT Jaleel Johnson earned defensive honors, freshman K Keith Duncan earned special teams honors, and DB Manny Rugamba shared freshman of the week honors.

8.2: Tackles for loss per game by Illinois, which ranks sixth among FBS teams.

15 of 16: Years Iowa has been bowl eligible since 2000.

16: Illinois natives on the Iowa roster. Illinois has one Iowa native on its roster (TE Andrew Davis).

17.0: Tackles for loss for Illini DE Carroll Phillips, which leads the Big Ten.

20.5: Average points allowed per game by the Iowa defense, which ranks 18th among FBS teams.

25:31: Average time of possession per game for Illinois, which ranks 123rd of 128 FBS teams.

95: Tackles for Iowa linebacker Josey Jewell, which leads the Big Ten.

324.9: Total yards per game by the Iowa offense, which ranks 120th of 128 FBS teams.

314.9 Total yards per game by the Illini offense, which ranks 124th among 128 FBS teams.

Hawkeyes to watch

The senior quarterback is 19-4 as a starter during the regular season and 9-1 in true road games. He's an NFL prospect but has had a somewhat disappointing senior campaign, completing 58.5 percent of his passes with a 128.8 passer efficiency rating. Injuries to top targets, WR Matt Vandeberg and TE George Kittle, haven't helped. He does have a good touchdown-to-interception ratio though at 14-to-6. Beathard also is a threat to continue the play outside the pocket.

The 5-foot-11, 191-pound junior running back is Iowa's best big-play threat with 1,051 yards from scrimmage (779 rushing yards, 272 receiving yards) and 11 total touchdowns (eight rushing, three receiving). He's averaging 136 yards from scrimmage the last four games.

The Lombard (Ill.) Montini Catholic product has made 24 consecutive starts and is Iowa's best player in the trenches and a future pro. The reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week has 47 tackles this season and a team-high 6.5 sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss.

The junior is the Big Ten's leader in tackles (95) despite missing most of the first game after getting ejected for targeting. While the Hawkeyes have more talented defenders, the Butkus Award semifinalist is the heart and soul of the Iowa defense.

A likely first-round draft pick, King is a playmaker (12 career interceptions, including three returned for touchdowns) and physical in run support. The senior has made 48 career starts and is the only Big Ten player in the last 20 years with 12-plus interceptions and 1,500-plus combined kick- and punt-return yards.

The Naperville (Ill.) Central native is the reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Week after totaling three pass break-ups and an interception in his first career start last week against Michigan. Bill Cubit's Illini staff made a late run at Rugamba last winter and he had some interest, but Rugamba stood by his Iowa pledge.

Illini in the spotlight

Wes Lunt, who missed four games with a back injury, will be back in the starting lineup after replacing Jeff George Jr. in the second half of Saturday's loss at Wisconsin. After George Jr.'s four-interception performance and his 40.4 percent completion rate over four starts, Illini offensive coordinator Garrick McGee said "nothing phases Jeff" and that the redshirt freshman had "a great spirit" in a quarterback meeting on Sunday. But McGee will go back to the healthy senior who said he took about 10 practice reps last week.

"He's healthy, which is always good to have him out there and healthy and moving around pretty well," McGee said of Lunt, who completed just 2 of 8 passes on Sunday. "He controlled everything. He was under control. It's good to have him back healthy."

What's McGee want to see out of Lunt, who will be playing his last game in Memorial Stadium?

"Just be efficient, really take a lot of pride in this being his last game in this stadium," McGee said. "Play lights out. ...Hopefully he plays really good, catch fire the last two weeks of the season. That'd be really good for him and really good for us."

Carroll Phillips is just a few big plays away from putting his 2016 season among one the best ever for an Illini pass rusher.  He needs just two sacks to reach 10.0 on the season and three tackles for loss to reach 20 on the season. He would become the first Illini to notch 20 tackles for loss in a season since Whitney Mercilus in 2011 (22.5 TFLs) and just the fourth Illini since 1992 to notch 20 or more TFLs: Mercilus, Fred Wakefield (21 TFLs in 2000) and Simeon Rice, who had 20 TFLs in 1994 and 23 TFLs in 1995. Only six Illini have recorded 20 or more tackles for loss in a season.

Phillips also would be the first Illini to notch double-digit sacks since Mercilus (16.0 in 2011) and would be just the third Illini since 1992 to notch double-digit sacks (Mercilus and Rice, who had 11.5 sacks in 1995 and 16.0 sacks in 1994). Only four Illini have recorded 10 or more sacks in a season: Mercilus, Rice, Mike Poloskey (15.0 in 1991) and Scott Davis (10.0 in 1987).

"I try to put myself to high standards," said Phillips, who has put himself on NFL radars with his breakout season. "Getting 10 sacks this year would be great for me. Now, I'm playing a lot, so that would be a high goal for me."

Keys to the game

1. Play ball-control offense: Illinois ran the ball well against Wisconsin (21 carries, 99 yards), but George Jr.'s interceptions gave Wisconsin a runaway lead within the first quarter and forced the Illini to throw the ball more to try to play catch up. Lunt enters the lineup and while it's uncertain whether he'll make big plays, he has taken care of the ball extremely well during his career (10 interceptions in 25 games). He has just one interception in 137 pass attempts this season. The Illini run game, especially behind Kendrick Foster, has taken some steps recently, so it'd be great to see McGee commit to a run game, allowing Lunt some space with play-action passes. The Illini, which ranks 123rd of 128 FBS teams in time of possession, simply must control the ball longer

2. Sell out against the Iowa run: Beathard is capable of having a huge day, but Iowa's passing offense has been terrible this season, due in part to injuries to key targets. The Illini secondary has struggled in coverage this season, but Iowa doesn't have many big-play threats. The Illini defense's key to stopping Iowa is stopping their run game, especially Wadley. This is the kind of day where you should see eight in the box more often than not.r


Iowa probably isn't as good as its 14-13 home win over Michigan, and it probably isn't as bad as its 41-14 loss at Penn State. The Hawkeyes are a solid Big Ten West team, currently tied with Northwestern (the Hawkeyes lost to the Wildcats 38-31) and Minnesota (the Hawkeyes beat Minnesota 14-7). They used all their magic during last season's 12-0 regular season, which led to a Big Ten Championship Game berth and a Rose Bowl berth. This season, the Hawkeyes have regressed to the mean, but it's still a pretty good team built on stout defense and a good run game. Both those traits pose problems for an Illini team that lacks physicality and weapons on offense.

Yet, Illinois does have a slight chance in this game. The Hawkeyes defense isn't quite as good as Wisconsin's. The Hawkeyes run game isn't nearly as good as Wisconsin's (it's not even as good as Minnesota's). The passing offense is one of the worst in the country (though Illinois' is worse).

Still, the Illini defense remains inconsistent and the offense remains horrendous. Lunt could give them for life, but he didn't earlier this season. If Illinois wins the turnover margin, if Illinois keeps the Iowa run game in check and if Lunt makes some big plays with his arm, the Illini have a chance. That's a lot of ifs.

Iowa 27, Illinois 13

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