Grading the Iowa football team’s comeback victory over Illinois

The Hawkeyes overcame an early 14-0 deficit to defeat the Illini, 35-21.


Katie Goodale

Saturday Dec. 5, 2020; Champaign, Illinois, USA; Iowa running back Tyler Goodson (15) moves the ball upfield during the second quarter of the Iowa v. Illinois football game at Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020. Iowa defeated Illinois with a score of 35-21.

Robert Read, Pregame Editor

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — The wins keep on piling up for Hawkeye football.

Iowa won its fifth game in a row on Saturday, defeating Illinois 35-21. The Hawkeyes trailed by 14 points early in the second quarter — their largest deficit of the season — but managed to make the comeback to improve to 5-2 on the season.

DI Pregame Editor Robert Read graded Iowa’s performance.

Offense — A-

Much like the team’s defense, Iowa’s offense got going after a few lackluster drives to start the game. The Hawkeyes punted on their first four drives of the day, then scored on six of their next seven.

It looked like another disappointing day from quarterback Spencer Petras, but the first-year starter threw a career-high three touchdowns after his early struggles.

On the ground, four Hawkeyes made big contributions. Tyler Goodson led the way with 92 rushing yards, Mekhi Sargent followed with 54, and receivers Ihmir Smith-Marsette and Tyrone Tracy took handoffs and used their speed on the edge as Iowa ran for 204 yards as a team.

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Defense — B

After the third fighting Illini drive of the day, the Hawkeye defense settled in and dominated. On the next eight drives following Illinois’ second touchdown, the Iowa defense forced six punts and a turnover on downs. The clock running out in first half also ended an Illini drive.

Iowa’s defense has now held its opponent below 25 points for 21 consecutive games, the longest streak in the nation among Power Five teams. Elite.

Special teams — A

Charlie Jones and Tory Taylor may be headed to first-team All-Big Ten honors this season. Keith Duncan isn’t half bad, either.

Jones immediately became a threat when he took over as Iowa’s punt returner; that continued against Illinois. The Buffalo transfer’s biggest return was good for 18 yards and set Iowa up for a touchdown in the second half.

Taylor’s wizardry continued on Saturday. The Australian punter averaged 42 yards on five attempts, his longest being 54 yards. But Taylor also put touch on his punts, as always. He downed two inside the Illinois 20, including one down to the six-yard line.

Duncan nailed all his kicks, including two field goals in the first half that kept Iowa in the game until it started to get into the end zone frequently in the second half.