Illinois’ offense falters after early success in 33-23 loss to No. 17 Iowa on the road

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Photo Courtesy of Illinois Athletics

Illinois’ defense surrounds an Iowa offensive player during the game at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday. The Illini fell, 33-23, to the No. 17 Hawkeyes.

By Wes Hollenberg, Staff Writer

Illinois football lost 33-23 to No. 17 Iowa in Iowa City on Saturday afternoon.

The Illini had pulled off two consecutive ranked upset victories on the road prior to Iowa, but they were without head coach Bret Bielema after he tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this week. 

Illinois started hot, with a touchdown drive spearheaded by quarterback Brandon Peters spreading the ball around to receivers. Tight end Luke Ford came up with a 13-yard touchdown catch to put the Illini up 7-0 early.

Things seemingly got better for Illinois from there, with the defense keeping Iowa without much yardage and forcing a punt. On that punt play, the snap was mishandled, and Illinois ended up getting the ball on the Iowa 28. 

Illinois was held to a field goal to go up 10-0, but the shutout would be short lived as Iowa’s Charlie Jones returned the Illinois kickoff for a touchdown. Illinois was held to a three-and-out on the next drive, and Iowa took advantage when it got the ball back. 

The Hawkeyes quickly marched down the field behind a variety of chunk-yardage passing and rushing plays and scored a touchdown to go up 14-10 early in the second quarter. Illinois went three-and-out again, and Iowa proceeded to start what initially looked like another dominant drive. The Illini found a way to slow the Hawkeyes, holding them to a long 51-yard field goal attempt, which Iowa converted to go up 17-10. 

The Illini responded by getting back on the board themselves. Peters made a pair of back-to-back 20-yard passes to put the Illini in Iowa territory. The Illini couldn’t get much from there and ended up settling for a 45-yard field goal to reduce the deficit to four points. 

The Illinois defense then held Iowa to a three-and-out, but Peters threw an interception on the next Illini drive to give the Hawkeyes the ball in Illinois territory. At this point, the Illinois defense clamped up and kept the Hawkeyes without a first down, holding them to a long field goal attempt that missed to give the Illini offense the ball back with under a minute left in the half.

On their final drive of the half, Illinois’ offense remained dormant, going three-and-out sending the game to halftime after a punt. 

Iowa opened the second half on a long drive that went for a field goal to go up 20-13 while Illinois struggled to get much of anything going on their first drive. The Illini defense stymied Iowa on their next drive, paving the path for Brandon Peters to connect on a deep 44-yard pass to Casey Washington on the next possession. Illinois couldn’t muster much else, however, so they had to settle for a field goal to cut the deficit to 16-20. 

Both teams traded three-and-outs until early in the fourth quarter, in which a punt by Blake Hayes ended up resulting in a pair of Illini penalties that put Iowa on the Illinois 17-yard line. Another penalty brought Iowa to the Illinois 8-yard line, but the Illini defense made yet another timely stop, culminating in a third down play in which Isaiah Gay broke up a pass that would have otherwise gone for a touchdown. Iowa opted for the field goal, going up 23-16 and keeping Illinois within one score.

The Illini were shut down on their next drive, but Kerby Joseph came up with a timely interception to give the offense the ball at midfield. The offense couldn’t come up with much and ended up going for it on fourth and three on the Iowa 46 and failing to convert. 

Iowa’s offense kept humming, as the Hawkeyes quickly got down the field and made a field goal to go up two scores and keep the game out of reach for the Illini. 

During a last-ditch effort drive, a Peters pass was bobbled by Chase Brown and turned into an interception caught by Jack Campbell which went for a touchdown return. In garbage time, Isaiah Williams came up with a touchdown catch to put the final score at 33-23.

 

@WesHollenberg

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