The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

No. 16 Iowa football beats Illinois, 15-13, after trailing majority of game, clinches Big Ten West division

The Hawkeyes punch their ticket to the Big Ten Championship with one game remaining in the regular season.
Emily Nyberg
Iowa punter Tory Taylor acknowledges fans after a football game between Iowa and Illinois at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023. Taylor punted for 413 total yards, averaging 51.6 per play. The Hawkeyes defeated the Fighting Illini 15-13.

The Iowa football team defeated Illinois, 15-13, at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, clinching the Big Ten West Division for the first time since 2021. 

Hawkeye quarterback Deacon Hill continued his streak of productive games, going 19-of-29 for 167 yards and a touchdown, including finding wide receiver Kaleb Brown seven times for 71 yards. 

“Happy does not describe how I’m feeling right now,” head coach Kirk Ferentz said at the postgame press conference. ” Really proud of the effort everybody put in today, and really all season long.”

In their first game without 2022 AP All-American cornerback Cooper Dejean, Iowa’s defense held a Fighting Illini offense that accounted for over 500 yards in the previous week to just 280. Linebacker Jay Higgins led the Hawkeyes with 12 tackles and one pass deflection.

Ferentz said clinching the Big Ten West means a lot for his players, given the adversity they were faced with this season after losing starters on both sides of the ball, including DeJean, quarterback Cade McNamara, and tight ends Erick All and Luke Lachey.

“After Penn State and coming out of our bye, things weren’t looking too good for us, but the guys didn’t buy that narrative,” he said. “When you work with quality people who look forward and not backward, you have a chance.”

After a first drive that resulted in 22 yards and a punt, Iowa’s defense got right to work getting a safety off a sack by senior defensive lineman Joe Evans. 

Evans finished the day with four tackles and three pass breakups. After the game, the sixth-year senior said his finale at Kinnick was up there amongst the favorites of his career so far.

“[After Penn State] I said we still can be Big Ten West champs … and I’m sure some people laughed at that, but look at us now,” Evans said.

Iowa responded on offense with a 15-yard rush by running back Leshon Williams and followed up with a 31-yard play-action pass from Hill to Brown into Illinois territory.

Brown has over 140 all-purpose yards in the last three games since filling in for starting wide receiver Divante Vines, who was injured two weeks ago against Northwestern.

“To step up and be the guy that everyone needs me to be is great,” Brown, a transfer from Ohio State, said.

However, a couple of incompletions sent Iowa’s field goal unit out, and placekicker Drew Stevens missed on a 53-yard attempt.

Three possessions later in the second quarter, Illinois struck first with a 52-yard field goal by kicker Caleb Griffin. The Fighting Illini were set up in Iowa territory after a 31-yard pass to wide receiver Isaiah Williams.

On the following Iowa possession, the Hawkeyes had their longest drive of the season, moving the ball 75 yards on 14 plays, resulting in a four-yard touchdown pass to tight end Addison Ostrenga, his second touchdown in the past three games. 

“I think the story of our season has been just keep pushing forward, each and every play, and I think we were able to do that today,” Hill said.

But Illinois responded on their next possession, with Paddock going five-for-seven on throws for 60 yards, setting up running back Reggie Love III to walk in the end zone on a one-yard touchdown. 

After a quick three and out on Iowa’s fifth possession, Illinois capitalized on back-to-back penalties by Hawkeye defenders Aaron Graves and Jermari Harris, setting them up in Iowa territory. However, the Fighting Illini couldn’t finish with points, as Griffin missed the 52-yard field goal attempt, setting up Iowa at their 42-yard line.

Iowa failed to score with 75 seconds remaining in the second quarter, and Illinois went into halftime up, 10-9. 

Second half.

Illinois received the ball to start the third quarter and had a decent drive going until the Iowa defense forced three incomplete throws on back-to-back pass deflections by Yahya Black and defensive back Deshaun Lee. 

After Iowa and Illinois each swapped punts, Illinois had a productive 11-play, 69-yard drive on its third possession of the half that got them down to the Iowa 11-yard line. However, Iowa stopped Illinois on a third-and-1 quarterback sneak, and the Fighting Illini settled for a 26-yard field goal to extend their lead to 13-9. 

Both teams took turns punting before Iowa got the ball back with less than 11 minutes remaining and started the drive off promising by getting a pass interference call on the first play, but did not make much of it as punter Tory Taylor sent a 53-yard boot to set Illinois up at its own 22-yard line. 

After a six-play, 2:37 drive by Illinois, Iowa’s offense took over at their 46-yard line with just over seven minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. After Hill found Ragaini on a clutch nine-yard pickup on third-and-5, Iowa punched it in the endzone on a 30-yard run by running back Kaleb Johnson.

After not recording a touchdown since Iowa’s Week 6 victory against Purdue, Johnson said the score brought back the joys of the past. 

“It felt like it was my freshman year scoring my first touchdown — it was amazing,” Johnson said.

The game was not over just yet, as Stevens’ extra point was blocked, and Illinois got the ball back with less than five minutes remaining. 

After a quick three plays, Illinois went for it on fourth-and-2 at their 36-yard line, and senior Joe Evans came up with another pass deflection to give Iowa back the ball in Illinois territory. 

The Hawkeyes would get the ball back with less than four minutes remaining, and after a 12-yard rush by Kaleb Johnson on third-and-8, Iowa would run out the clock and win it, 15-13, and finish atop the Big Ten West for the third time in program history. 

Up Next

The Hawkeyes have a short week before their next matchup at Nebraska on Nov. 24 at 11 a.m., the Hawkeyes’ second game this season in the early window.

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About the Contributors
Cooper Worth
Cooper Worth, Pregame reporter
Cooper Worth is a Pregame Reporter for The Daily Iowan. He is a senior at the University of Iowa majoring in journalism and mass communication. He is also earning a minor in communication studies and an entrepreneurial management certificate. This is his third year at the DI, previously serving as a News Editor and as a News Reporter covering local government in Johnson County for the DI. Cooper interned for the Telegraph Herald in Dubuque, Iowa during the summer of 2023 as a general news reporter.
Emily Nyberg
Emily Nyberg, Visual Editor
Emily Nyberg is a second-year student at the University of Iowa double majoring in Journalism and Cinematic arts. Prior to her role as a Visual Editor, Emily was a Photojournalist, and a News Reporter covering higher education.