Brandon Snyder goes yard in his emotional return, Nate Stanley throws three more touchdowns, and the Hawkeyes roll here on Homecoming.
After a sloppy first half, Iowa buried visiting Illinois, cruising to a 45-16 victory. Safety Brandon Snyder returned to action just six months after tearing his ACL, and he opened the floodgates with an 89-yard pick-six in the third quarter that turned this game from a tight affair to a rout. The Hawkeyes move to 4-2 (1-2) on the season, heading into the bye week.
Nate Stanley will rightly earn accolades for his performance, going 17-for-32 for 247 yards and three scores with one interception (only his second of the year). Considering the last two games, it was great to see an Iowa passing offense that was lively, challenging, and effective downfield.
Stanley's effectiveness wasn't just a matter of his own improvement, though; it had as much to do with his receivers becoming much more reliable catching the ball, both downfield and on crossing routes. Not all of Stanley's throws were on target, and his interception was a bizarre decision into triple coverage. But when Stanley was allowed to plant a foot and fire on time, he was lethal.
Meanwhile, Akrum Wadley rushed for a game-high 115 yards on 23 carries, his 12th game over 100 yards in his career and third this season. Wadley needed the bounce back as much as anybody after Michigan State had him bottled up, and he looked as forceful in the running game as ever. Wadley put the game well out of reach with an 18-yard scamper in the fourth quarter, running that devastating counter action to open field as he's done so often:
For the Illini, starting Jeff George Jr. now and going forward was the right move, headaches and all. George was 22-for-45 for 246 yards and three* interceptions; he also gave up a fumble on the Illini's first play from scrimmage. His arm talent is wholly evident, and he and his talented receivers challenged the Iowa defensive backs often. This was a win for the Hawkeye secondary, for sure, but if it was Chayce Crouch throwing the ball it would have been a bloodbath.
*It would have been four picks, but Josh Jackson was happy to knock down a ball on 4th down in the end zone instead; Iowa took over on its own 34, so it was the correct decision.
Any 29-point win is a good 29-point win, of course, but there was plenty of anxiety to go around early. Ivory Kelly-Martin horked up a fumble in the red zone after Iowa's early recovery, then Iowa missed a 4th-and-1 opportunity at the Illini 14 when Wadley was stuffed. The Illini took advantage of Stanley's interception to convert a field goal to take a 13-10 lead, and only a furious late Iowa drive, aided by a fake punt run by Amani Hooker (!!!!), pushed the score back to 17-13 in favor of the Hawkeyes at the break.
The play of the game, however, was Brandon Snyder's score. Iowa had punted on its second straight three-and-out, and Illinois was moving the ball downfield with eyes on the Hawkeyes' precarious four-point lead. George was looking for a receiver deep left, but thanks to his extreme Jeff George-ness, he found a wide-open Snyder:
Snyder later told reporters he spent the last 20 yards of the return soaking in the moment and all he had gone through to return, and how could you not? What an testament to his perseverance. What a moment indeed. The Hawkeyes scored three fourth-quarter touchdowns after Snyder's scamper, and now it's chips and salsa time.
Plenty to be proud of, and plenty to work on after this one. Which is pretty much how Kirk Ferentz likes it. Nice win, guys. Go Iowa Awesome.