Mendenhall contained on ground; Benn, Reda shine during road loss

 

 

By Jason Grodsky

Illinois was held well below its season average in rushing on Saturday. The Illini came into the game averaging a Big Ten leading 261. 2 yards on the ground but were held to just 137 against the Hawkeyes.

The Illini struggled to get on track on the ground against an Iowa defense that was fourth in the Big Ten against the run. The Hawkeyes held the Illini to 3.9 yards per carry, nearly two yards less per carry than their season average.

For the first time this season Illinois failed to punch the ball into the end zone on the ground. Its best opportunity came on the first drive of the second half when the Illini had a first-and-goal at Iowa’s 2-yard line but were forced to settle for a field goal.

“It was a grind-it-out kind of game,” said junior running back Rashard Mendenhall. “We knew they had a good run defense, and they did a good job against our attack. We had some opportunities, and when you get that close, you have to score and come up with touchdowns at this level. But there were certain plays we didn’t capitalize on. But it’s over with, and we can’t go back and do anything about it.”

Mendenhall entered the game second in the Big Ten in rushing behind Michigan’s Mike Hart but was held to 67 yards on 15 carries, his second lowest production of the season.

    Subscribe to our sports newsletter!

    It was just the second time this season the Illini have been held under 200 yards rushing. The only other game the Illini failed to break the 200-yard mark was in their season opener against Missouri, when they rushed for 119 yards.

    “Every single Big Ten game you can throw out the records,” said senior offensive lineman Martin O’Donnell. “It doesn’t matter how many wins you have or what you’re ranked. You’re going to get everyone’s best shot each week, and they did a good job.”

    Benn sets new career marks

    Even with a sore shoulder, Illini freshman wide receiver Arrelious Benn had a career day.

    Benn set two new career highs on the day for receiving yards in a game and a longest reception. His 87 receiving yards surpassed his 84 receiving yards against Penn State earlier this season, while his 33-yard catch in the fourth quarter also marked a new career-long catch, knocking out his 29-yard reception against the Nittany Lions.

    “I’m just worrying about executing and making sure we win,” Benn said. “It’s not about me. It’s about putting points up on the board and the team as a whole.”

    Benn re-aggravated his shoulder in the game but returned to make some big plays down the stretch for the Illini.

    On Illinois’ final drive Benn caught passes of 28 and 24 yards from redshirt freshman Eddie McGee to move the ball down to Iowa’s 12-yard line before McGee was intercepted in the end zone to seal the win for the Hawkeyes.

    “I’m not worried about my shoulder.” Benn said. “It’s just something that I’m going to have to deal with the rest of the season.”

    Reda stays perfect

    It was a much better trip to Iowa City for senior place-kicker Jason Reda this time around.

    Reda scored Illinois’ only points in the Illini’s 10-6 loss to Iowa, kicking two field goals from 46 and 23 yards to remain a perfect 9-for-9 on the season. He is the only Big Ten kicker not to miss a kick this season.

    His 46-yard kick in the first half gave him his fifth 40-plus yard field goal this year. The Rock Island, Ill., native now ranks third all-time at Illinois with 44 career field goals.