DEFENSE PITCHES A SHUTOUT
They held Michigan to 13 a week ago. They held Wisconsin to 17 before that. They also beat up on Minnesota and Rutgers early on in the season and the first unit had their way with Purdue. They shut out Illinois today. This unit has been impressive outside of the games against Penn State and Northwestern. It can be argued that the defensive performance against PSU wasn't as bad as the score said because of the impossible situations they were dealt by their anemic offense. Either way, this is a unit playing at a high level right now that should give them a chance to win on Senior Day against Nebraska next week.
GREAT SECOND HALF
Iowa outscored Illinois in the second half 21-0. It could have been more than that but they had a promising drive nullified by penalties that resulted in a turnover on downs deep inside Illinois territory. The first half wasn't pretty but they dominated in the second half the way good teams do against subpar competition like Illinois. It hasn't been the year they wanted but now they have a shot to finish 8-4 which would be pretty good all things considered.
SUPERIOR LINE PLAY
Iowa's offensive line has been a question mark for quite a while. They have been poor in pass protection and they haven't ran the ball consistently well because they're one-dimensional. It didn't matter today. Iowa's offensive line took over the game and ran the ball down Illinois' throat even without two starters. Keegan Render and Levi Paulsen held up well. It did shift when the Illini went down a couple guys on their defensive front due to injury but the Hawkeyes still won the game up front on both sides. The offensive line started to win the battle in the trenches a week ago actually, when they began to click against Michigan in the second half.
The defensive line is playing special right now. Jaleel Johnson is an animal. He's turned it up to another level and has been unblockable. Faith Ekakitie is playing at a phenomenal level. Anthony Nelson had his best game as a Hawkeye. Parker Hesse has played outstanding the last few games. It's a group that has come together at the right time and it's allowed Josey Jewell to fly all over the field and make plays.
Iowa had every opportunity to put the game away early, really. They let a couple scoring drives falter because of penalties and turnovers. They had more alarming drops by wide receivers and running backs. This offense is not near good enough to overcome those types of mistakes. They can forget about scoring if they are hurting themselves with drops, penalties, and turnovers. Iowa is an offense that has to have a clean sheet to have any kind of success. They did for the most part in the second half but the first half was rough.
PASSING GAME STILL NON-EXISTENT
Even today when the pass protection was pretty good for the most part, they couldn't move the ball through the air and that was with or without the wind at their backs. There's personnel problems. There's execution problems. There's timing problems. There's chemistry problems.
Noah Fant is their best tight end in the passing game among those that are healthy but they tip off that is a passing play when he's in the game because they can't leave him in as a blocker. Peter Pekar is their best blocking tight end but he isn't a threat at all to catch a pass. George Kittle is missed greatly in that regard. None of the receivers or backs are consistent at catching the ball cleanly even when they are wide open. Beathard's timing with his receivers, tight ends, and running backs in the passing game is far from being where it needs to be.
PEAK AT NEXT YEAR DEFENSE
Much of the offense returns next season for Iowa outside of quarterback, tight end, and one lineman. The tight end and offensive lineman they lose are already out with injury (George Kittle and Cole Croston). Nate Stanley will enter in at quarterback. They lose Riley McCarron but they'll have Matt VandeBerg back. LeShun Daniels graduates but Akrum Wadley will still be around. It's clear what the offense will look like a year from now on.
The defense is more of a mystery. Jaleel Johnson, Faith Ekakitie, Desmond King, and Greg Mabin all leave and they have played so many snaps it's been unknown who will fill those voids. Today we got a glimpse towards the end of the game.
The defensive ends all return. Anthony Nelson, Matt Nelson and Parker Hesse will all be back and Sam Brincks has improved to where he should be a rotation player next season as well. It actually would not surprise me to see them experiment with him on the interior next year. A.J. Epenesa should get snaps next year at defensive end as well.
Defensive tackle will only have Nathan Bazata back among those that have received meaningful snaps. Brady Reiff and Cedrick Lattimore lined up at defensive tackle at the end of the game. Expect those three to be the guys next year with Michael Slater having the possibility of figuring in as well. The depth won't be there which may be reason to give Brincks a look there.
All three linebackers will be back. Iowa has been known to keep that a position battle at the weakside, though. They all three return but I'm sure they will be tempted to give Jack Hockaday some meaningful time next season.
One corner will most assuredly be Manny Rugamba. The other one will likely be an open competition battle between Michael Ojemudia and Josh Jackson. Jackson makes the most sense because he has a couple starts under his belt and has played several significant snaps already but Ojemudia was making a charge in the offseason before he had to deal with a nagging hamstring injury. Whoever doesn't win that battle becomes the nickel and should still receive a good amount of playing time. A fourth corner will see time and that will likely come down to Cedric Boswell or Matt Hankins.
The starting safeties will be Brandon Snyder and Miles Taylor again. Anthony Gair has played admirably well with Taylor out but he graduates. Amani Hooker and Jake Gervase plugged in today at the end of the game. Snyder has potential, ability, and is very athletic and has played well the last three games. Taylor seems to have taken a step back this season but it's hard to see him losing his job next year but perhaps Hooker gets a look.