Football game notes: Illinois at Iowa
November 23, 2019
Illinois’ offensive surge finally lost power Saturday at Iowa, as the Illini fell 19-10, dropping to 6-5 on the year. Illinois quarterback Brandon Peters looked confident in the first quarter but failed to build on the early momentum. Despite missing captain linebacker Jake Hansen, the Illinois defense kept the game within reach until late. Donny Navarro again stepped up against a ranked opponent, proving worthy of the scholarship he was awarded prior to the Michigan State game.
After a bad interception on the opening possession, Illinois took advantage of a missed Iowa field goal and drove the ball 75 yards in under two minutes for a touchdown.
With two receivers set to Peters’ right, Navarro ran a wheel route out of the slot, fooling the Hawkeye secondary and catching a wide-open, walk-in 31-yard touchdown.
And that was about it for Illinois’ offense.
A bad sack on fourth down set Iowa up to steal three points as the clock expired in the first half, and Peters threw a devastating interception with the Illini driving to start the third quarter. To make things worse, the following drive culminated in a missed field goal from James McCourt.
Illinois again drove down to open the fourth quarter but were forced to settle for a field goal when a touchdown was really the more necessary result.
The theme of the day was finishing, as the Illini put some good drives together but couldn’t punch it in as the field shrunk down.
Peters set a career-high with 76 rushing yards but threw for just 125 yards. A key facet of Illinois’ win last week at Michigan State was the contested passing game to receiver Josh Imatorbhebhe, but Iowa tightened up against the Illini wideout, holding him to 36 yards receiving.
Saturday’s performance served as a coming-back-down-to-earth moment for the Illini, but the team still has some positive moments to build off of heading into the season finale.
Bend but don’t break was the key takeaway for the defense on Saturday, as the Illini surrendered just 19 points and only one touchdown, despite letting Hawkeye quarterback Nate Stanley throw for 308 yards.
The struggle dealing with the absence of Hansen was only made worse after leader Tony Adams exited the game at cornerback.
Iowa took advantage of the thin secondary, as the Hawkeyes’ Ihmir Smith-Marsette caught four passes for 121 yards.
Sophomore safety Sydney Brown was a bright spot however, securing his third interception in the past two games.
Despite being vulnerable to the pass all game long, the Illini locked up the Hawkeye run game, holding the stable of Iowa running backs to 79 rushing yards as a unit.
At the end of the day, the defense kept giving the offense chances to win the ballgame, which is all it will ever be asked to do. Down several key starters in a hostile road environment, the unit held its own, a drastic turnaround from the 63 points given up to Iowa at home last season.
Donny Navarro: A
The now-former walk-on keeps on having his number called on critical plays, and time and time again he comes through.
Navarro expertly sold his route inside and could have jogged into the endzone when he made the catch downfield after bamboozling Iowa’s defensive backs. Navarro finished with three catches for 36 yards.
It will be interesting to see what Navarro’s role will be down the line as health improves and new recruits come into the receiving unit, but for now, the Naperville native is the offense’s safety net.
Saturday’s loss was simply a case of Illinois not taking advantage of opportunities that were there for the taking. The Illini have an opportunity to end the regular season on a high note, however, as Northwestern comes to Champaign having yet to win a conference game. If his team can come out victorious, Smith will be able to take home the Land of Lincoln Trophy for the first time in his tenure.