Illinois looks for packed stadium, strong performance against Iowa

The+Illinois+football+defensive+linemen+take+on+Chattanooga+during+the+game+on+Sept.+22.+

Logan Hodson

The Illinois football defensive linemen take on Chattanooga during the game on Sept. 22.

By Ben Fader, Staff Writer

The Illini (4-1, 1-1) return home in the midst of an exciting first half of the 2022 campaign to host the Iowa Hawkeyes (3-2, 1-1) on Saturday at 6:30 pm at Memorial Stadium. With momentum from the previous three games, the Illini are riding high, especially after their dominant performance against Wisconsin.

Saturday’s matchup will feature a defensive slugfest between two teams with the Illini preparing for a battle with the Hawkeyes. The football program has been active this week, promoting the game and hoping to pack Memorial Stadium for a primetime contest under the lights.

The Hawkeyes are the reigning Big Ten West division champs, a feat that the Illini are in pursuit of heading into week six. A win on Saturday would keep them on track to accomplish this goal and give them another statement win, taking down last year’s champion.

Defensively, the Hawkeyes are stiff, allowing just ten points and 254 yards per game. They are at their best when creating turnovers, but have elite defenders all around that can frustrate an offense and force punts.

Although they surrendered 27 points last week to the Michigan Wolverines, the strengths of Iowa’s defense were still on display, with Michigan’s offense totaling their lowest points, passing and rushing yards in the game. The Wolverines boast a high-powered offense that reached the College Football Playoff just a season ago, proving that the Hawkeyes are a test for everyone.

    Subscribe to our sports newsletter!

    Iowa’s defensive line does not generate a lot of pressure on opposing quarterbacks, but they are tough for running backs to get past. The Iowa linebackers and defensive backs are the strongest groups comprising the top six tacklers on the roster and have even scored two touchdowns so far.

    Sophomore defensive back Cooper Dejean is having quite a season, totaling 20 tackles, five defended passes, three interceptions and one touchdown. Dejean leads the explosive group that has almost half of the team’s points in three Power Five matchups thus far.

    This statistic tells not only how tremendous the defense has been for the Hawkeyes but also how bleak the offense has been. Senior quarterback Spencer Petras was never known as a game-changing quarterback, but he has taken a step up in 2022.

    Petras has tallied two touchdowns and two interceptions over five games, leading to his abysmal 17.8 quarterback rating. This is the 128th best in the country, which is why the Hawkeyes are a run-first team.

    This bodes well for Illini defensive coordinator Ryan Walter’s defense, which gives up the second-fewest rushing yards per game in the Football Bowl Subdivision. Although the Hawkeyes are a run-oriented team, the Illini proved their strength after holding strong Wisconsin lead back Braelon Allen to just two yards on eight carries last weekend.

    Expect Walters to emphasize stopping the run once again and forcing Petras to pass the ball. If the Illini are effective, they could find themselves in a similar situation to a week ago, giving up few points and forcing numerous turnovers.

    While the Illini defense has a favorable matchup to look forward to, the offense has a less favorable one. While senior quarterback Tommy DeVito has impressed the last two weeks, the Hawkeye defense will likely take him throwing the ball rather than letting junior running back Chase Brown get too many chances.

    Wisconsin took the same approach on Saturday, but with DeVito hitting his receivers efficiently for solid gains, the Badger defense showed him more respect, allowing Chase Brown to break loose in the second half. If DeVito gets rid of the ball quickly and accurately again this week, the pressure and Hawkeye defense will likely drop off Chase Brown so that the nation’s leading rusher can get significant gains.

     

    @benfader7

    [email protected]