IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The same thing that lifted Illinois into the public consciousness and bowl eligibility following a four-game winning streak bit them at Iowa - turnovers.
The Illini suffered three turnovers, all of which came on well-executed drives before the self-defeating errors by quarterback Brandon Peters, that immediately halted any and all momentum in a 19-10 loss at No. 19 Iowa Saturday.
This loss at Kinnick Stadium, which is Illinois’ sixth straight loss in Iowa City, is only the second game this season Illinois (6-5, 4-4) has lost the turnover margin.
“Each game we’ve won, we’ve talked about the turnover ratio, going to do the same thing right now,” Illinois head coach Lovie Smith said. “When you’re minus-2 in turnover ratio, I mean, that’s tough. One takeaway is not good enough.”
The 19th straight road loss for the Illini against a road opponent on the road (a streak that dates back to the 28-21 win over No. 1 Ohio State in 2007) is a combination of the turnover magic going in the opposite way for the Illini and Smith’s clock management at the end of the first half, which he immediately regretted in the post-game media conference, basically gifting Iowa three points right before the halftime break.
“Disappointed in the way the half ended (and) wish I had that call to do over again,” Smith said. “Bad coaching move. My fault. If I had to do it over again, I’d punt the ball.”
The junior signal-caller, who transferred from Michigan, had two momentum-killing interceptions and a fumble that ended all hope for another dramatic Illinois road win. Saturday represented the first multi-interception game since Peters arrived on the Champaign-Urbana campus and provided Iowa (8-3, 5-3 in Big Ten) with the big plays that Illinois’ defense had feasted on during wins against Wisconsin, Purdue, Rutgers and Michigan State. To make matters worse, Peters was unable to finish the game able being was struck with a hit to the head near the end of the game and was immediately taken to the locker room. It is the second time Peters has been knocked out of a game and they’ve come in both of Illinois’ road losses to ranked teams.
In the Illini’s first game without a defensive touchdown in over a month, the relatively unfamiliar feeling of loss was recorded for a program that hadn’t been on the wrong side of the scoreboard since Oct. 12.
“We’re driving down there and then just turnovers were so costly,” Illinois tailback Dre Brown said. “The defense played pretty well today and those turnovers are inexcusable. I guess that’s how these teams we’ve played these last four weeks have felt.”
In a game where Iowa managed just 79 yards rushing on 32 attempts, Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley found the holes in Illinois’ third-down zone defense for a 308-yard day through the air. Iowa was just five of 16 on third down Saturday but three of those conversions were the senior quarterback finding receivers usually in the middle of the field against Illinois’ prevent Cover-2 defense.
“I feel like it was in the back end just (a lack of) communication and we let extended plays happen a lot too today,” Hobbs said. “When the quarterback is running around, somebody is going to get open and in the back end, when we don’t communicate, guys are going to get open.”
Coming into Saturday, Illinois had only allowed 15 passing plays of 20 yards or more in the last two months of play but Stanley was able to stand in the pocket without much had eight
Illinois will now prepare during the Thanksgiving week for a regular-season finale matchup against Northwestern (2-9, 0-8) where the Illini will likely be favored before the 11 a.m. Saturday kickoff.