Grading Illinois’ 45-16 loss to Iowa

By Cole Henke

Editor’s note: The Daily Illini football writers graded each facet of the Illinois football team’s 45-16 loss to Iowa on Saturday. The Illini offense, defense, special teams and coaching were graded.

Offense: C+

The Illini totaled more yards than the Hawkeyes on the day. Illinois was able to put up 446 yards but only 16 points. Turnovers were the main cause, as quarterback Jeff George Jr. threw three interceptions and lost a fumble on the first play of the game. The offense drove the ball well with freshmen leading the attack. Players like Mike Epstein, Ra’Von Bonner, Ricky Smalling and Carmoni Green all contributed to the offense Saturday. The offensive line looked good at times, but Vederian Lowe cost the Illini yards and a touchdown with two ineligible-receiver-downfield calls against him. Ultimately, the inexperience hurt the Illini in the end, but they were still able to move the ball more than they have in the past few weeks, which earns them a C+.

Defense: C-

At first glance, it looks like the Illini defense got dominated by the Hawkeyes, but those 45 points do not do the defense justice. While it was not at its best, the Illini defense was much improved against Iowa, with both the front seven and the secondary looking much stronger than they did against USF or Nebraska. Unfortunately for the Illini, their offense let them down. Four turnovers from George Jr. at quarterback meant the defense had to return to the field often, and with little scoring support. The defense responded well to the turnovers in the first half with Stanley Green forcing a fumble and Bennett Williams intercepting a pass, but in the end it was too tall of a task to deny Iowa all game long. The Hawkeyes returned to their run-first game plan in the second half, and running back Akrum Wadley repaid them with 115 yards and a touchdown as he wore the Illinois defense down. The unit lost a step late in the game and made a few mistakes that led to Iowa scores, but it was hard to pin much blame on them when the offense kept giving Iowa the ball back.

Special Teams: C

Chase McLaughlin continued his impressive season by adding three field goals today. He knocked in field goals from 24, 29 and 40 yards. He also did a good job preventing kick returns, putting the ball deep into the end zone on kickoffs. Blake Hayes was not used as much as he had been in previous games. The punter got one of his kicks off just before an Iowa defender was about to block it. However, the punt had good distance and flipped the field. The Illini did not get many opportunities to return kicks or punts as well. The special teams unit got tricked twice by the Hawkeyes, once on an onside kick and once on a fake punt. Iowa sprung a surprise first quarter onside kick, but ended up turning the ball back over to Illinois, but the fake punt in the second quarter led to Iowa retaking the lead as time expired in the first half.

Coaching: B

The Illini came out with a balanced attack that kept the offense moving effectively. The Illini did not punt the ball in the first half. Part of that was due to turnovers, but part of that was also due to the Illini converting on third downs and extending drives. The Illini attacked the Hawkeyes defense on both the ground and through the air, and the two facets of the offense complemented each other and kept a usually stout Iowa off-balance. The Illini finished with 446 total yards on the game, and if not for untimely turnovers and penalties, the score might have been a lot closer.