With Iowa going on the road after a trio of close, soul-crushing losses to play Illinois, what we all expected was the biggest loss in the history of Illinois football, right?
Is this thing on?
Iowa only needed 395 yards of offense -- 197 passing, 198 rushing, just the way Kirk Ferentz likes it -- to post 63 points on the Fighting Illini Saturday afternoon, and the Hawkeye defense refused to allow the Illinois offense past the Iowa 36 yard line all day. The end result: A 63-0 annihilation of the homestanding Illini that stands as Kirk Ferentz's biggest win in twenty years as Iowa's head coach, Iowa's largest Big Ten win since the early days of Hayden Fry, and Illinois's biggest loss EVER.
It started innocuously enough, with Nate Stanley throwing an interception on the second play of the game and punted on the next series. But the floodgates soon opened: Over the next 18 minutes, Iowa scored five times:
- A four-play drive on a short field, capped with Stanley finding Noah Fant for a nine-yard touchdown catch;
- A three-yard Mekhi Sargent touchdown plunge;
- A fumble forced by A.J. Epenesa, then picked up by A.J. Epenesa and returned 19 yards for a score;
- An eleven-yard Stanley touchdown throw to T.J. Hockenson, one play after Iowa blocked an Illinois punt;
- A 37-yard touchdown throw to Hockenson when Illinois sold out against the dive on 3rd & 1
Just like that, it was 35-0, the first half was almost over, and Iowa was getting frisky.
New Kirk doesn't kneel.
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) November 17, 2018
Kyle Groeneweg returned a punt for a touchdown following Illinois's first series of the second half. Toren Young got a score on the following series. Sargent and Young doubled their touchdown totals in the fourth quarter as Iowa bled the clock, and that was that, the closest you'll get to a stress-free November Saturday as an Iowa fan, a brief window into what it must feel like to be an Alabama fan.
Iowa checked a whole bunch of boxes for its fans Saturday. Noah Fant, overlooked in recent weeks and a flashpoint this week, played all but a couple snaps in the first half and was a frequent Stanley target throughout. A.J. Epenesa played throughout the first half and wrecked shop on those fools, getting 1.5 sacks, a tackle for loss, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and a touchdown before halftime. Sargent became Iowa's first 100-yard rusher this season. Amani Hooker, playing a combination of safety and linebacker all day, picked off one pass and probably had another that was ruled incomplete. The beatdown was on offense, defense and special teams. It was thorough, and it was comprehensive.
With that said, it's hard to know just what can be taken away from this game. Illinois clearly quit right around the time Epenesa was barreling into the end zone, and while it's impressive that Iowa could hold scoreless an offense that scored more than 33 points in its last three games, it's just Illinois. There is still one more game to play in six days. If Iowa repeats Saturday's performance against Nebraska on Friday, then we'll have something to talk about.