Iowa hosts Illinois on Saturday in trek of going through the first half of their schedule unscathed. After a clean non-conference slate, the Hawkeyes opened up Big Ten play on the road last week by defeating Wisconsin in Madison. The home opener of the Big Ten comes this Saturday on homecoming weekend against the Fighting Illini.
Illinois enters the contest at 4-1, with their lone loss coming against North Carolina 48-14. However, despite that outing, it is a team that has been full of improvement, most recently evidenced by their victory over Nebraska last week, coming from behind to knock off the Huskers 14-13.
Because of all that, in addition to how well the Hawkeyes defense has played, I see another possible defensive stalemate in this one. However, I don't think it will be to the extent it was last weekend in Madison. Weather played a role in that one as well with the wind whipping as much as it was. Better weather is expected tomorrow in Iowa City which should allow both quarterbacks to air it out.
Offensively, Iowa will want to establish the running game as always. They ran all over the Fighting Illini a year ago, and though the defensive front is improved for Bill Cubit's bunch, I expect the Hawkeyes to try to go back to the well there and have success. Not the success they had in last year's meeting but I think Iowa will be able to move the ball on the ground with Jordan Canzeri behind the interior of that offensive line. The passing game probably gets off to a slower start for that reason, but opens up in the second half after the Illini have to commit more defenders in the box. This could be matchup that sees the Iowa tight ends finally emerge. I'd keep an eye on that.
Defensively, Iowa will be challenged as Illinois will spread it out and they have the athletes to do so. Fortunately for the Hawkeyes, running back Josh Ferguson is out. He would have been a matchup nightmare for Iowa. They haven't covered the backs receiving out of the backfield very well all year, the one complaint for the defense, and that is Ferguson's game. Crisis avoided in that regard.
Young running back Ke'Shawn Vaughn has been a nice weapon for the Illini, and he was a former prized recruit. He's done well and couple that with the strong arm of Wes Lunt, and the Illinois offense has weapons. I just don't think it's enough weapons. Iowa's secondary should be a great challenge for Lunt. He's also not getting a lot of help. His wide receivers outside of Geronimo Allison are not coming through and really stalling drives by all the drops they are committing. Illinois has the firepower to put up some points, but not enough. They'll have to throw often after Iowa jumps out to a lead, which should result in a few more turnovers for the opportunistic Iowa defense.
IOWA 28 ILLINOIS 17