WHO: Illinois Fighting Illini (4-6, 3-4 Big Ten)
WHEN: 1:00 PM CT (Saturday, November 20)
WHERE: Duke Slater Field at Kinnick Stadium (Iowa City, IA)
TV: FS1 (Adam Alexander, Devin Gardner)
RADIO: Hawkeye Radio Network (TuneIn, or local listings) | SiriusXM Ch. 195
MOBILE: Fox Sports app
TWITTER: @IowaFBLive | @IowaAwesome | @IowaOnBTN
WEATHER: clear, highs around 50
LINE: Iowa -12.0 (TOTAL: 38.5)
One more home game until Kinnick Stadium goes quiet for 10 months. The football season goes by so fast, whether we're riding high at 6-0, losing back-to-back gut-punch games, or trying to figure out what to think about this season. It seems like just a few days ago that we were getting excited for Iowa to host Indiana in the season opener. And a week from now Iowa's 2021 regular season will be in the books.
Senior Day brings a visit from Illinois. Like last week's opponent (Minnesota), the Illini haven't enjoyed trips to Kinnick Stadium much during the 21st century; they haven't won a game in Iowa City since 1999. They haven't had much success against Iowa in the Kirk Ferentz Era, period -- they've lost 13 of their last 14 games against Iowa and Ron Zook remains the last Illinois coach to beat Iowa (back in 2008). Hope springs eternal, though, and hiring Bret Bielema has certainly given Illinois more legitimate hope than they've had in a long time. They've already notched upset wins over Penn State and Minnesota and they also beat Nebraska (does that even count as an upset?) this year. In fact, they're only two wins away from a .500 season and bowl eligibility. But Bielema won't be on site to coach this game, as he tested positive for COVID-19 earlier in the week; he'll have to wait until 2023 to make his first trip back to Iowa City since the 2010 Iowa-Wisconsin game.
As expected when Bielema was hired, he's begun the process of transforming the Illini into a Bert team, which means big hosses up front and lots of running the ball. Which they've been decent at this year -- 180 yards per game, 7th best in the Big Ten. What they don't do well is throw the ball -- 139 yards per game, dead last in the league. They've also got a sizzling 51% completion percentage as a team and they're averaging 5.3 yards per attempt. If Iowa can slow down the Illini run game, the Illinois offense should be pretty toothless.
On defense, Illinois ranks middle of the pack in scoring defense (21.6 ppg, 8th in the Big Ten), but they're in the bottom half of the league in total defense, pass defense, and run defense. So teams have been able to move the ball on them, but they've struggled to turn that production into points at times. That could be a concern for Iowa, unless the hyper-efficient Iowa offense of a week ago turns up. Iowa will need to make sure they end drives with points to keep this game from being uncomfortably close late. (That's how Penn State ended up getting upset.)
But if Iowa does the sort of things they ought to do in this game, they should be fine. Iowa needs a big game out of their front seven on defense and they need the offensive line to continue showing at least marginal improvement, but if they do that -- and avoid crippling turnovers -- this should be another win over our neighbors to the east.
IOWA 23, ILLINOIS 10