Matchup Preview: Illinois at No. 19 Iowa

Matthew Stevens

Date/time: Saturday, Nov. 23, 11 a.m. CST

Location: Kinnick Stadium, Iowa City, Iowa

Surface: FieldTurf

Capacity: 69,250

Schedule/records: Illinois 6-4 overall, 4-3 Big Ten, 4-8 in 2018 (2-7 in Big Ten); Iowa 7-3 overall, 4-3 in Big Ten, 9-4 (5-4 in Big Ten) in 2018.

Series notes: Illinois holds a 38-34-2 edge in the all-time series but Iowa has won six straight meetings dating back to 2008, their longest streak in the series history. Illinois led Iowa 13-10 late in the second quarter in 2017 in its last visit to Iowa City, before Iowa took the lead just before halftime and pulled away with 21 points in the fourth quarter for a 45-16 win. Iowa shut out Illinois, 63-0, at Memorial Stadium in the teams’ last meeting on Nov. 17, 2018.

TV: BTN - Kevin Kugler (PBP), Matt Millen (analyst) & Rick Pizzo (sidelines)

Radio (Illinois): Brian Barnhart (PBP), Martin O'Donnell (analysis) and Steve Kelly (Pre/HT/Post) » The broadcast can be heard live on TuneIn online radio, Sirius (105) / XM (396) satellite radio & SiriusXM Internet (958), and at FightingIllini.com.

Current Line: Iowa by 15

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Iowa running game vs. Illinois run defense

The Hawkeyes running game found a shot of adrenaline last week in the form of Tyler Goodson. The 5-foot-10, 190-pound became the first true freshman to start at running back under head coach Kirk Ferentz since 2012 in Iowa's 23-19 win against then-No. 8 Minnesota in Week 10. Goodson rushed for 94 yards against the Gophers. The Hawkeyes have three running backs with at least 70 carries, and all three have started at least one game but Goodson's speed and athleticism have given the Hawkeyes balance again to help the passing attack of Nate Stanley. In the first half against Michigan State, Illinois struggled to contain the Spartans running game and despite finding the turnover magic in the final 30 minutes, the Illini are still 13th in the 14-team Big Ten Conference in rushing defense by allowing 196.2 yards per game on the ground. When Iowa hits the 150-yard mark on the ground under Ferentz, they've won 101 of 118 games.  

Edge: Iowa

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Iowa passing game vs. Illinois pass defense

Edge: Stanley has started the last 36 games at quarterback and he ranks second in school history in passing touchdowns (66), and third in passing yards (7,682). He ranks third in the Big Ten in passing yards (2,331) and passing yards per game (233.1). The difference this season in Iowa's passing attack is the dynamic nature of their wide receivers. Redshirt freshman WR Tyrone Tracy has 16 receptions for 323 yards the last four games. He had 12 receptions for 190 yards in the first six games. Tracy had 130 receiving yards at Wisconsin. It was his first career 100-yard receiving game, and the most receiving yards by a Hawkeye wide receiver since Marvin McNutt had eight receptions for 130 yards against Michigan State in 2011. In order to counter the Iowa vertical passing game, Illinois is going to have to generate a pass rush and that'll likely mean a return from junior defensive end Oluwole Betiku Jr., still ranks fifth in the nation in sacks (1.14 per game) and eighth TFLs (1.6 per game) on the season despite missing the last three games.

Edge: Iowa

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Illinois running game vs. Iowa run defense

Iowa leads the nation in allowing run plays of 20 yards or more. The Hawkeyes have allowed only two of those kinds of rushes and despite losing seven defensive starters from 2018 to the NFL, Iowa defensive coordinator Phil Parker is again a nominee for the Broyles Award, which honors college football’s top assistant coach. Iowa has allowed 14 touchdowns in 10 games, the fourth-fewest in the country (Ohio State 11, Georgia 12, Utah 13, Clemson 14) and Iowa is one of four schools in the country to allow just four rushing touchdowns or fewer (Georgia 1, Oregon 3, Utah 3). Illinois is going to have to count on a veteran offensive line to establish a running game against a defense that has allowed 100 yards on the ground just three times this season - all of their losses.  Illinois offensive coordinator Rod Smith's scheme relies on big-yardage plays as tailback Reggie Corbin has had 10 scrimmage plays over 50 yards in his career, all coming against Big Ten competition 

Edge: Iowa

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Illinois passing game vs. Iowa pass defense

Illinois junior receiver Josh Imatorbhebhe has become one of the top big-play threats in the nation. The transfer from Southern California leads the Big Ten Conference and ranks 15th among Football Bowl Subdivision with nine touchdown receptions, which is also tied for the third-most in program history, one behind the Illinois single-season record of 10 held by Brandon Lloyd (2001) and David Williams (1985). It'll be interesting to see which cornerback Iowa uses on the top target for Illinois quarterback Brandon Peters. Iowa cornerbacks Michael Ojemudia and Riley Moss are tied for eighth in the Big Ten with two interceptions apiece. In order to negate one of the nation's best pass-rushing defensive fronts, Illinois is going to have to figure out a way to get Peters on the move as the Michigan transfer showed two weeks ago at Michigan State that he's very proficient outside the pocket. 

Edge: Even

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Special teams

Junior WR Ihmir Smith-Marsette is named on the Paul Hornung Award watch list, an honor bestowed to the most versatile player in college football. Smith-Marsette averages 27.9 yards on 39 career kickoff returns, the best in school history among players with at least 30 returns. The Big Ten record of average kickoff return yardage (minimum 40 returns) is 28.8, set by Stan Brown of Purdue (1968-70). Smith-Marsette has 1,087 kickoff return yards, eighth all-time in program history. Illinois punter Blake Hayes ranks 17th in FBS and second in the B1G in punting average (45.0) and his versatility, whether it’s booming kicks or bouncing rugby-style kicks, have helped the Illini rank 21st in FBS in net punting (41.23 yards per punt). Of Hayes’ 55 punts, 27 have been downed inside the 20, with just two touchbacks. Opponents have scored only 16 points on ensuing drives after Hayes’ punts inside the 20-yard-line and Illinois has scored two defensive touchdowns. 

Edge: Illinois slightly

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Intangibles

Yes, this is Iowa's Senior Day game but this is going to be an emotional pre-game celebration. Since the start of the 2016 season, the Hawkeyes have won 32 games and qualified for a bowl game every year. The senior class has an overall record of 32-17, including a 19-8 mark at home, a 19-15 record in Big Ten games, and a 13-5 record in trophy games (11-4 in rivalry games, 2-1 in bowl games). Normally, this would represent Iowa with an advantage but usually, in these types of situations, the home team needs a possession or two to get into any kind of rhythm and block out the outside distractions of the game. Illinois players remember the 63-0 beatdown from last year and their revenge tour of Lovie Smith's fourth season has already taken them to road wins at Purdue and Michigan State. 

Edge: Illinois

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PREDICTION

If games are usually won at the line-of-scrimmage, Iowa has proven to be superior to the Illini on both the offensive and defensive lines. Nate Stanley is a projected NFL Draft pick this spring and the Hawkeyes have held seven-of-10 opponents to their season-low point total. Ferentz has admitted this Illinois team is a much better product than when they faced each other last year. If Illinois, which has forced 26 turnovers in 10 games, 10 interceptions, and an NCAA-best 16 fumbles, can find turnovers again find turnovers the dynamic of this game shifts again. If they can't, Iowa wins an old-school, physical football game. 

Iowa 24, Illinois 14

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