Illini Welcome Hawkeyes to Champaign

The Illini start off Big Ten play against the hated Iowa Hawkeyes on Saturday in Memorial Stadium.'s Brad Leshyn looks at Kirk Ferentz's Hawkeyes in this preview of the game.

For three quarters last week, it was the same old song for Illini fans as they made Syracuse look more like Michigan than a team that was mired in an 11-game losing streak. Then came Juice. While the kid still has a LONG way to go, he showed flashes of brilliance unseen in these parts in quite some time. While he didn't bring a miraculous come-from-behind victory, he did bring another thing unseen in these parts for quite some time: hope. As of Wednesday evening, Ron Zook had not tipped his hand about who will start at QB this week, but you can bet Juice will see some serious action. While his performance against Syracuse was encouraging, Iowa, despite their close shave against the Orange, is another animal and will be yet another baby step in the education of Juice. It may not be pretty, but at least there is a reason to watch. That in itself is a step in the right direction.

When the Hawkeyes have the ball
When the topic is the Iowa offense, the conversation begins with QB Drew Tate, one of only four three-year starters at quarterback in Iowa history. After sitting out a week, Tate returned to action last week against Iowa State and threw for 274 and three scores. Just another day at the office for a kid who should stand behind only Chuck Long in the Iowa passing record books when his career ends. His 49 career TD passes already rank second in school history (25 behind Long), and with 19 career wins, he is likely to exceed Matt Sherman's 24 to claim the runner-up slot behind Long's 33. With the graduation of Ed Hinkel and Clinton Solomon, the Hawks are still in search of a go-to receiver. TE Scott Chandler has been the favorite target early on as he leads the club with 15 catches and 161 yards. True freshman Dominique Douglas showed signs the WR spot may be in good hands for four more years as he led the Hawkeyes with 6 receptions and 88 yards a week ago. His start marked the first time a true freshman has started for Iowa since Mike Jones in 2003.

Speaking of Jones, he will be sitting out this week's contest as he violated an unspecified team rule, and this will mark the end of his streak of 34 straight starts. Freshman Travis Meade will likely get the call in his absence, and his main job will be to open holes for All-Big Ten RB Albert Young. Despite injury troubles early in his career, Young exploded a year ago, gaining 1,334 yards. He currently leads the Hawks with 223 yards and has been an important part of the passing game with 12 receptions, which rank second on the team.

When the Illini have the ball
Defensive Coordinator Norm Parker is known for having one of the most creative minds in the business, and under his tutelage the Hawkeyes are perennially a stout defensive football team. The early numbers show that is the case once again, as the Hawks rank 20th nationally in scoring defense (12.33 ppg) and 22nd in total defense (249.0 ypg). Granted, they opened with Montana and an Syracuse; one a D-1AA team and the other an inept offensive team, last week excepted.

DT Mitch King is the star of the unit. Through three games he has already amassed five sacks and 6 ½ tackles behind the line. His 20 stops ranks second on the team, which is rare for an interior lineman. The Hawkeyes also boast a pair of junior ends in Bryan Mattison and Ken Iwebema, who have 3.0 sacks and 6 ½ TFL between them. DT Matt Kroul rounds out a stout front four with Ryan Bain, a player who somehow the Illini had no place for, getting plenty of quality snaps as well.

The leading tackler is LB Mike Klinkenborg, whose 31 are third-most in the Big Ten. Klinkenborg's eight tackle performance last Saturday, just days after the death of his father, earned him the Walter Camp Football Foundation Defensive Player of the Week award. Mike Humpal, who claims Iowa's only interception thus far, and Edmond Miles flank Klinkenborg. In the secondary, CB Charles Godfrey's 14 solo tackles are a team high. Former walk-on Devon Moylan made his first career start last week in place of injured Marcus Paschal and registered eight tackles. Paschal (shoulder) is scheduled to return to practice this week and should reclaim his FS spot if the shoulder hold up.

Fun Facts
There are 12 players on the Iowa squad from the state of Illinois and they have four players named Mike.

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