Missed Opportunities: Hawks Lose to Illinois

The Iowa Hawkeyes were their own worst enemy for the fourth game this season, and they came away from Illinois with their fourth close loss of the season, a 27-24 decision. It's the fourth loss of five points or less for Iowa this year. And has been the case this season, the Hawkeyes failed to execute in key spots in addition to turnovers that directly impacted the scoreboard.

The Iowa Hawkeyes were their own worst enemy for the fourth game this season, and they came away from Champaign, Illinois with their fourth close loss of the season, a 27-24 decision. It's the fourth loss of five points or less for Iowa this year.

And has been the case in each of the previous losses, the Hawkeyes failed to execute in key spots in addition to turnovers that directly impacted the scoreboard.

Iowa had four drives in this ballgame where they enjoyed a first and ten from no worse than the Illinois 12 yard line. But the Hawks were only able to muster three field goals on those trips, including a missed field goal from 30 yards out.

Had the Hawks scored just one touchdown on those four trips, we likely would have been talking about an Iowa win on Saturday. That even takes into account the sack of Rick Stanzi that led to a fumble returned for a touchdown for the Illini.

But again; don't over analyze this game too much; just like the five turnovers the Hawkeyes committed against Northwestern, when you come away with just six points on three redzone trips in the first half, on the road, the statistics are overwhelmingly against your chances to win. Like, 85% or better against you.

Yet, the Hawks fought back and actually tied the game after being down 24-9 in the fourth quarter. They scored two touchdowns, one on a quick yet long drive through the air, another aided by an Illini fumble on their own 36.

If this season reminds you a lot of the 2001 season, it should, because that's exactly what it reminds me of.

That year, Iowa lost five games by single digits, and came back the next year and went on a roll. I am not here to talk about next year right now, because Iowa still has some exciting things in front of them for this year.

The Purdue game at home and the Minnesota game on the road are winnable contests, while the game next week against Penn State looks very, very challenging.

A 6-6 record this year will likely find the Hawkeyes no worse than the Insight Bowl in Arizona, while a 7-5 record could find them back in San Antonio for the Alamo, or in Orlando for the Champs Bowl. More on that topic on Monday.

Here are some post game thoughts:

RICK STANZI: This was a game where Stanzi showed his inexperience, yet showed his ability. You have heard me say this for a long time; the one thing you can count on with young players is that they will be inconsistent. Stanzi was; he was 11 of 29 for 191 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. The interception came on first down after Iowa regained possession at midfield with under four minutes to play in the first half. At worst, the Hawks could have made it very challenging for Illinois to score to end the first half, because of clock issues. Illinois went on to score three points off of that turnover. Stanzi also fumbled the ball deep in Iowa territory on a play where an Illini player hit his arm before he began to move it forward. Illinois recovered the ball and scored a touchdown.

Just about the time Stanzi was making you pull your hair out, he would make masterful plays with his feet, and throwing on the run. Hey, that's just life in this league with a young signal caller, and this is not to pile on Stanzi. His throws were also erratic today, but we have seen enough evidence this season to know that he has more than enough ability to lead this football team to wins over the course of the rest of this season and next two seasons. His 13 yard run on Iowa's last touchdown drive when the Hawks were in a deep 3rd and 9 hole was a growth moment.

SHONN GREENE: Greene did top the century mark for the 9th straight game, gaining 103 yards on 21 carries. It was by far Greene's most challenging game this year, as Illinois sold out against the run and were running line stunts that had some success. But one wonders if the Hawks got too cute down on the ten yard line on a second half drive.

Greene had just run for 35 yards on four carries on the drive, and the Hawks had first and goal at the Illini 10, trailing 10-6. Iowa called a play action fake to Greene, and Stanzi was sacked for a loss of nine yards. That pass play was also into the short side of the field.

Greene was not 100 percent, as his right ankle continues to bother him. On Iowa's 15 play drive in the first half that resulted in a field goal on their third possession, Jewell Hampton carried the mail the entire time. It makes me wonder if after a bye week, if Greene didn't reinjured his ankle sometime in practice last week.

THE IOWA DEFENSE: Honestly, I am not sure what more could be asked of this unit. They answered the call all day long, and you can't expect a defense to win each and every possession. Illinois gained 332 yards on the day, more than 120 yards below their per game average. Juice Williams was 22 of 37 on the day for 272 yards, one touchdown but two interceptions. Williams was held to 30 yards rushing on 12 carries. Iowa played the option perfectly against Illinois, and the Illini had just 60 yards rushing on the day and pretty much abandoned any serious rushing attack. Iowa allowed just 14 first downs, which is an outstanding number.

One play stands out against Iowa's ledger; a 50 yard lob toss that Williams threw to Fred Sykes in the third quarter; it appeared that there was a mix up in coverage, as Amari Spievey was 10 yards behind a wide open Sykes, and Tyler Sash was hot in pursuit, but also ten yards back. Spievey has played excellent football all season, and though it's not impossible that he blew that play, it seems a bit unlikely as he stopped retreating, as if he felt he had safety help behind him.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Trent Mossbrucker was 3 of 4 on field goals, raising his season total to 13 of 15. You can't expect at true freshman kicker to make them all, and there appeared to be an issue with either the snap or hold on the 30 yarder that he pulled. Daniel Murray was excellent for the most part today on his kickoffs, but the one bad play he had resulted in a kickoff that went out of bounds, giving Illinois possession at its own 40 yard line to start their drive, which they scored a touchdown on; the previously explained long pass play.

Iowa's kickoff coverage was very good on this day, as was their punt return coverage. Arrelious Benn is one of the most dangerous returners in the league, and he was held in check.

Punter Ryan Donahue had a solid day (44.6 average on five punts), but Iowa's kickoff team left something to be desired.

OTHER: Illinois was snapping the ball very quickly late in the game, and they left Iowa :27 seconds in the game. The Illini had all three timeouts heading into their final drive, so their game clock management left something to be desired.

Tony Moeaki had to have the worst luck of any football player I have seen. He was once again injured in this game and had to leave the contest with a concussion after a head to head penalty was called on a seam route.

Iowa continues to have its problems on third downs. The Hawks were 3 of 16 on the day, while Illinois was 7 of 15. Iowa held a 34:01 to 25:59 time of possession advantage in the game. Iowa gained 329 yards to Illinois 332. Iowa had 21 first downs on the day.

Iowa allowed six sacks on the day, but I wouldn't say that the offensive line was porous by any means.

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