Week 12 scouting notebook | No. 17 Iowa vs. Illinois

Saturday’s game will test the toughness of Iowa’s defensive front.


Grace Smith

Iowa left tackle Lukas Van Ness attempts to sack Northwestern quarterback Andrew Marty during a football game between No. 19 Iowa and Northwestern at Ryan Field in Evanston, Illinois, on Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021. The Hawkeyes defeated the Wildcats 17-12.

Chris Werner, Sports Reporter

The No. 17 Iowa football team will host 4-6 Illinois at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday afternoon. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. 

In each of the Illini’s two upset victories this season — against Penn State and Minnesota — the Illinois running backs had ample space to create big plays. Iowa’s front seven must work to win the line of scrimmage and not allow many large gains on the ground. 

Below is the DI’s full scouting report for the game.

Marquee Matchup — Iowa’s defensive front against Illinois’ running backs

Illinois runs the ball. I mean, Illinois runs the ball a lot. In the Illini’s last three games combined, they have thrown 50 passes. And quarterback Brandon Peters only attempted nine throws two weeks ago during Illinois’ most recent contest against Minnesota. In that same three-game stretch, the Illini have run 145 rushing plays. 

In their two upsets this season, a 14-6 win over Minnesota and 18-16 defeat of Penn State, the Illini ran the ball 46 and 67 times. Some of those rushing attempts were sacks but you get the point. 

Illinois sophomore Chase Brown gets the majority of the carries for Illinois. Brown, from London, Ontario, Canada, logged 55 total carries in Illinois’ upset wins and picked up a total of 370 yards on the ground in those two games, averaging 6.7 yards per rush. 

A big part of slowing down Brown for Iowa this week will be winning the line of scrimmage. And that won’t be easy. 

Illinois’ five starting offensive linemen this week weigh an average of 308 pounds and stand at 6-foot-4. Every starter weighs 300 pounds or more. And the big guys are experienced too. All five of Illinois linemen have spent three or more seasons at Illinois. 

Iowa linebacker Jestin Jacobs knows his team and his defense is in for a battle on Saturday afternoon. 

“[Like Minnesota] it’ll be another tough, physical run game, so we’re going to have to come to play again,” Jacobs said. 

Getting to know Illinois

The Daily Iowan interviewed The Daily Illini’s Sports Editor Jackson Janes to learn more about Illinois

The Daily Iowan: Illinois had a bye week Last week, what did you kind of learn what they were working on during that time?

Jackson Janes: I would say probably the biggest takeaway, and I guess it’s kind of just news today, is that Bret Bielema has tested positive for COVID. So he’s not going to be making the trip to Iowa City. So all the storylines with him going back are no more because he will not be making the trip. But I guess just the bye week has been interesting because Illinois is coming off a win that I don’t think anyone was expecting. I guess that was also true with Penn State but I don’t think anyone was expecting Illinois to march into Minneapolis and pull off the upset against the Golden Gophers. But one thing that this team is dangerous with is if teams can’t stop their run game, then they’re gonna have problems, as we saw with Penn State in that shocking, unique nine-overtime win.  But in terms of this bye week specifically, I don’t think there’s too much to take away other than the fact that Bielema won’t be making the trip to Iowa. I guess, Illinois doesn’t really have too many injuries but people who maybe got a knock or something got to get a little time to recover. 

DI: Do you know how Bielema’s absence might impact the team? Like, who’s gonna take over the head coaching duties, things like that?

Janes: Yeah, so George MacDonald, who’s the wide receivers coach, the assistant head coach, I guess, we’ll be taking over that. That’s nice because it’s typically like an offensive or defensive coordinator and then it’s kind of like everyone has to fill in somewhere and it kind of is this whole assembly line of this person has to fill in for this person who has to fill in for this person. 

DI: You touched on the running game earlier, but what makes the Illini’s running game so potent?

Janes: Well, I think it’s gotta be the offensive line and I mean, they have one of the most experienced offensive lines in the Big Ten. They have mostly seniors on the offensive line. Just having all those pieces returning after last season, especially with some of them returning for fifth year, I think just having that experience on the offensive line is huge. And obviously, when you have both running backs, in Chase Brown and Josh McCray both kind of working together,  Chase Brown recently has had a couple of 100 plus yard-games. I think just having both the offensive line and the running backs kind of all working in tandem and working together and kind of running smoothly and just also having that experience at the line, all playing together for such a long time, it’s kind of unbeatable. And definitely something that’s been a huge factor for them this season.

DI: Going more to the defensive side of the ball, obviously, holding Minnesota to what, six points,  and then Penn State to 16, why do you think the defense has been so effective in these low scoring games not allowing many points?

Janes: The fact that they’re able to get to the quarterback and kind of put some pressure on the quarterback as we saw last week with Tanner Morgan, just the ability to put a quarterback under pressure is huge. Minnesota has one of the best offensive lines in my league and they were still able to find their way to the quarterback. I think another huge thing has just been everyone’s ability to kind of stop the run game. When Calvin Hart Jr., the transfer from North Carolina State went down after the first game of the year, I thought there was going to be some issues and having Jake Hansen who’s their second starting linebacker also go down to a season ending injury. I thought they’d have some problems stopping the run.  But,  I mean, you have Khalan Tolson  and Tarique Barnes who have both slotted into that linebacker position and done a good job and then you also have your secondary with Kerby Joseph has been huge. He’s kind of emerged as a new guy not many people thought much about. He was a big special teams guy early in the season, but he’s been huge. So yeah, I think just their ability to both get to the quarterback, stop the run with all those guys and then also force turnovers when they are able to has been big for this defense. It’s completely turned around after a terrible, terrible beginning of the season. season. And I guess also credit goes to Brian Walters who has kind of transformed the defense, the new defensive coordinator. 

DI: Going more towards the Illinois quarterback situation, I assume it’s Brandon Peters. I think he got a little nicked up in the Minnesota game but is he going to be the starter and what do you expect from him? It doesn’t seem like Illinois is much of a throwing team of late. 

Janes: Yeah, I think he is good to go. I haven’t heard anything otherwise. Barring some shocking revelation that happens midweek I’m fully expecting Brandon Peters to go. And I don’t know. I feel like this team has been kind of reliant on the run game so much all season. But I think something that was interesting against Minnesota was the fact that Peters had a couple big throws out of nowhere really, that kind of I mean, the offense kind of faltered after its first two drives, but his ability to throw the ball even if it’s just like once or twice on a drive is huge. But yeah, like you said, definitely more reliant on the run game and I would be shocked if that somehow changes in Iowa on Saturday. And I guess also another thing is something that they tried to do against Wisconsin, who has the best run defense in the league was throw the ball more and that failed epically. So I’d be shocked if they changed their game plan away from a run-heavy offense. 

DI: I think the last thing I have for you is to give a score prediction and kind of how you think things might shake out Saturday afternoon in Iowa City.

Janes: That’s a really good question. I think it’s going to be low scoring. I don’t see either offense having a big outburst. If I had to give a score prediction, I think, with Spencer Petras out, I think Illinois’ defense does just enough and, I mean, like, by a thread, just enough. I think it’s going to be like 10-7 Illinois, somehow being able to get a win on the road. I don’t know. I just feel like this team has a lot of momentum. But one thing that I could see happening is Illinois beating Iowa on the road and then falling to Northwestern to go 5-7 and come up just short of a bowl game in Bielema’s first year.  But yeah, I’d go 10-7 Illinois, but I really could see this game going either way.

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