Illinois loses momentum, falls to Iowa 35-21 on Senior Night

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Ryan Ash

Roderick Perry and Owen Carney Jr. get pressure on Iowa’s quarterback Spencer Petras in Illinois’ game against Iowa on Saturday. The Illini lost to the Hawkeyes 35-21.

By Carson Gourdie, Assistant Sports Editor

He started at Michigan, but his career under Harbaugh ran out of steam. Now, after transferring to Illinois, the same fate may have occurred.

After starting off flawless, Brandon Peters and the offense got shut down by Iowa, with the Hawkeyes pulling away for a 35-21 victory on Saturday evening at Memorial Stadium. With his latest performance, the opening for Isaiah Williams may have widened.

“It’s easy to just talk about the quarterback position, but we blocked them a lot better earlier,” said head coach Lovie Smith. “Thought their offensive line and defensive line kind of took the game over late. That was kind of the story as much as anything.”

After getting off to slow starts throughout the year — besides Nebraska — Illinois flipped the script and outplayed the Hawkeyes in the first quarter, allowing only 28 total yards of offense.

After holding the Hawkeyes to a three-and-out on its first possession, Brandon Peters led a balanced offensive attack to a 70-yard drive, capped off by a Daniel Barker receiving touchdown.

While Iowa’s offense production remained stagnant, Illinois ran through the Hawkeyes defense for four straight plays before Josh Imatorbhebhe made back-to-back athletic catches to cap off a 75-yard-drive for a touchdown.

After around 17 minutes of play, Illinois held a 14-0 lead over the two-touchdown favored Hawkeyes.

After starting 8-8 for 101 yards and two touchdowns, Peters and his pinned-back offense threw three straight incompletions and managed only four rushing yards, stalling drives and giving Spencer Petras and his Hawkeye offense life.

The Hawkeyes took advantage of good field position in the second quarter, scoring the final 13 points. Iowa could’ve made it 17-14 at the half, but Illinois’ defense stood up the Hawkeyes three straight plays inside the four-yard line, holding them to a field goal and taking a 14-13 lead into halftime.

“You could tell the momentum had shifted a little bit right before half, going into halftime,” senior offensive lineman Doug Kramer said. “Just coming out to the hot start in the first quarter, getting a couple scores then we kind of stalled out and they started moving the ball put some points up.”

The downward trajectory for the Illini offense carried over after halftime, with Illini going three-and-out to start the 3rd quarter.

The Hawkeyes marched right down the field to take its first lead of the game, with Ihmi Smith-Marsette scoring on a four-yard swing pass. The Hawkeyes converted on the two-point conversion attempt, stretching its lead to 21-14.

After holding off a driving Hawkeye offense off in its own territory, the Illini gained back possession with a chance to knot up the game at 21 apiece. After a 16-yard run by Chase Brown, the Hawkeyes stacked the box and stuffed the Illini three straight plays.

The Hawkeye offense needed only two plays to reward their defense, with Petras throwing another passing touchdown in the back of the endzone to take a 28-14 lead.

After six straight scoreless drives, Peters was pulled in favor of freshman Isaiah Williams, which sparked life into the offense.

“(Before Williams) there wasn’t a whole lot of energy at offense or defense,” Smith said. “You need a spark, and especially at that position you get that.”

Scrambling for yardage while making a few good throws, Williams led the Illini to a 15-play, 62-yard drive.

After senior Donny Narvarro dropped a touchdown pass in the corner, Williams followed it up with another incompletion on fourth down, giving the ball back to Iowa and ending a realistic chance at a comeback. Iowa proceeded to top off their comeback with another touchdown, finishing off a 35-0 run.

“The team you saw in the first half, that’s us,” Brown said. “We gotta finish.”

Williams led the Illini down for a touchdown in the final minutes, but the damage was done as the Illini fell to 2-4 on the season, ending any chance for a bowl game. With West division front-runner Northwestern coming up, Lovie Smith and staff may have a big decision to make at quarterback.

@gourdiereport