A Wadley Compliment
I’ve written about Akrum Wadley in many four factors this year -- about Greg Davis using Wadley in smart ways, about expanding his role, about mixing up his use opposite of LeShun Daniels. It all came together last week against Michigan. Wadley accounted for over 70% of Iowa’s total offense. He was effective running the ball against the Wolverine’s stout defense. He was even better slipping out of the backfield and catching the ball and making plays in space.
I don’t expect Iowa to be as creative against Illinois. The Illini defense is not great, especially against the run. Still I don’t expect the passing game to all of a sudden have a lot of success. But I think Iowa will be able to run the ball efficiently. Daniels could have a bigger role tomorrow if Iowa is content to run it up the gut 30 times.
Ideally the offensive compliment to Wadley would come in the passing game. The receivers really struggled against Michigan. And Iowa ran a ton of two-tight end looks against Michigan and used motion with them in the tight bunch formation. But the tight ends weren’t even targeted in the passing game.
The Illini have a young secondary, so there may be an opportunity to attack if Iowa establishes a strong run game. At the same time, Wisconsin last week ran the ball 64 times against Illinois and racked up 363 rushing yards. And I would guess that if Iowa could get away with running that much, they would love to do it…especially if the wind is howling like predicted.
Continue the Defensive Line dominance
If you had to pick a single reason why Iowa was able to beat Michigan, then you would probably pick the defensive line play. Iowa effectively shut down Michigan’s power running game with the defensive line, particularly Jaleel Johnson. The line also got a lot of pressure on Wilton Speight. While they only had two sacks, they got several hits on him and hurried a few of this throws. He never quite looked comfortable all night.
Illinois is more of a pass-heavy team. However, Wes Lunt has been out for a month and only played a little bit last week. He went just 2 of 8. So if he is still a little rusty, still hurting, or ineffective in any way, the Illini might chose to lean a little bit more on the run. Kendrick Foster is a home run threat and an all-around decent back. If Iowa’s line can shut down the run and force Lunt to pass it a lot in his first full game back, that could lean in Iowa’s favor.
Take advantage of Illinois’ terrible third downs
I don’t think there is a team as collectively bad at 3rd downs as Illinois. On offense they come in a 126th (out of 128) in the country converting just 28.1% of the time. On defense they are slightly better at 115th allowing teams to convert 45.9% of the time.
So here is a chance for Iowa to take advantage. On 3rd-and-greater-than-3, Beathard has had a hard time this year. He’s completing 56% of his third down passes but has been sacked 17 times and thrown three picks. The offensive line will still be makeshift and Illinois is actually pretty decent at getting a pass rush. So this isn’t an obvious advantage for the Hawkeyes. But hopefully they can put in a good performance on third down and keep drives going.
On the other side of the ball, the defense largely just needs to play sound on third down and should be successful. Illinois really only has one threat at receiver, Malik Turner. Shut him down and they don’t have a lot else.
Carryover the momentum
Generally I’m not as concerned with the intangibles of the game, but here is a good chance for Iowa to keep moving up after they righted the ship last week. The Hawkeyes looked like a team with nothing to lose. The defense was aggressive and the offense at least somewhat creative in its use of Wadley. Now, can they channel that same energy when playing at 11 a.m. in front of a half empty stadium instead of under the lights at Kinnick?
Illinois is coming off of a stomping put on by Wisconsin, similar to Iowa’s against PSU last week. Iowa was able to come home and rebound. It’s Illinois senior day, but I’m not sure they can do the same. So I’m looking for Iowa to come out early, be aggressive, and make Illinois know that they are going to be hit hard and often.
It looks like the weather is finally turning to fall and this will be the first cold and windy game of the year. That’s a recipe for a shut-it-down conservative gameplan where Iowa runs the ball 80% of the time, slows the game down, and grinds out a win. I think Wadley and Daniels both get to 100 yards, while the passing game doesn’t. The defense will be less aggressive, and instead sit back and wait for mistakes. With the weather and Lunt not 100%, they will come. In the end, Iowa grinds out a win in a low scoring game.
Final Score: Iowa 20 - Illinois 13