Five Stars of the Game: Iowa Vs. Illinois

By Jeremy Karll on October 8, 2017 at 4:15 pm
Akrum helped Iowa cruise to a win.

© Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

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Iowa's 45-16 win over Illinois can be deceiving as the Illini stayed close for 2.5 quarters. That said, once Iowa gained a little momentum in the second half, Illinois had no answer. Backups like Tyler Wiegers and freshmen Geno Stone and Ivory Kelly-Martin gave Iowa a couple more highlights in the final minutes of the game. But the five players below are why Iowa scored its most points in almost a year.

Akrum Wadley

Despite not playing on Iowa's opening drive, Wadley easily led the team with 23 carries and 115 rushing yards to go along with his fourth rushing touchdown of the season. He also caught two passes for 14 yards and a touchdown, scoring in the final seconds before halftime to give the Hawkeyes a 17-13 lead.

In short, Wadley looked like what we've become accustomed to seeing -- elusive, quick, fast, and able to find the end zone -- as he averaged five yards per carry for the first time this season. Iowa needed him to come out and dominate an inferior defense from start to finish, and that's what he did -- he gained 40 yards on 10 carries in the first quarter. Illinois doesn't own a daunting defense, but hopefully this gives the running game some confidence heading into the bye week because this is the Wadley Iowa needs in the second half of the season.

Nate Stanley

Nate Stanley had his good and bad moments on Saturday, but 17-of-32 passing for 247 yards, three touchdowns and an interception will get the job done more often than not. His interception was a terrible decision, as he overthrew Noah Fant in triple coverage, and he continued to overthrow receivers on deep routes. That said, helped by his receivers catching passes (seven different players caught a pass), he had his third three-touchdown game and passed for the second-most yards in a game of his young career. Stanley's overthrows and fumbles can be frustrating, but it's hard to complain about a 15-to-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio. 

Nick Easley

Ironically, Iowa's receivers stopped dropping passing in a game with huge gusts of wind and rain. No one benefited more than Nick Easley, Stanley's go-to-target in the red zone. Easley, who had four catches in Iowa's first two Big Ten games, reeled in a team-high seven passes for 59 yards and his fourth touchdown of the season. Easley's stutter-step fooled Illinois' defender, leaving him wide open in the middle of the field for Iowa's first touchdown of the game. Stanley loves to target Easley, so, naturally, Iowa's passing game looks much better when he gets open and doesn't drop passes. Noah Fant deserves a lot of credit, too, for his career-high 78 receiving yards, as well as a three-yard end around. 

Brandon Snyder

Six months ago, Brandon Snyder tore his ACL and was expected to be out for the season. Then, on Saturday, only halfway through the season, Snyder returned and started for the Hawkeyes. And he played extremely well. His 89-yard pick-six was the highlight of the game for three reasons: a) Iowa outscored Illinois 21-3 the rest of the game, b) it was an amazing moment for someone who worked extremely hard to recover from a devastating injury, and c) it gave us this great picture of Jeff George Sr. watching Snyder run the length of the field after his son got intercepted.

Considering Iowa's revolving door at safety this season, Snyder's return is more than just a nice story. He and Amani Hooker should help stabilize the secondary -- I say "should" because Kirk Ferentz opted to start Miles Taylor over Hooker against Illinois, even though...

Amani Hooker

There is no reason for Taylor to start over Hooker the rest of the season. Hooker, who replaced Taylor to start the second quarter, had one of his best games of the season against Illinois. He recorded six tackles and intercepted his first career pass. His interception in the end zone helped Iowa maintain a 7-3 lead and reassured everyone why he should be starting. Hooker also ran for 18 yards on a fake punt near midfield. It kept the drive alive and led to Wadley's third receiving touchdown of the year later in the drive.

Scott Dochterman wrote a nice piece on Hooker's importance to the secondary, but stated Ferentz wouldn't guarantee Hooker as the starter against Northwestern. There's two weeks until Ferentz has to make a decision, but it'd be hard to justify keeping him off the field.

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