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

Grading Iowa football’s performance against Illinois

While the Iowa defense held its own even in the absence of star cornerback Cooper DeJean, the offense, and even special teams were lacking in production.
Cody Blissett
Iowa wide receiver Xavier Nwankpa tries to break up Illinois wide receiver Isaiah Williams’ catch during a football game between Iowa and Illinois at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023. The Hawkeyes defeated the Fighting Illini, 15-13.

Passing Offense: B- 

After a solid performance last week against Rutgers, Iowa QB Deacon Hill kept his momentum going against Illinois, completing 19 of his 29 passes, with one touchdown and no interceptions. Each week, Hill has looked more comfortable in the pocket, and it has definitely shown, as his completion percentage over the past three games is miles apart from the 28 percent mark he put up in his first start of the season. 

In his first game as WR1, Kaleb Brown turned in an impressive performance, with seven receptions to go with 71 yards. Brown has quickly become the main focal point of this passing attack. Nico Ragaini also had five catches and 46 yards on the day. The only thing that kept this unit from getting a B+ was Hill’s inaccuracy at times. A couple of his passes were nearly intercepted, and he missed several wide-open receivers. However, Iowa doesn’t need Hill to do that much, and he didn’t have any turnovers, which is vital for the Hawkeyes moving forward. 

Passing Defense: B- 

It’s really hard not to give coordinator Phil Parker’s defense an A+ week in and week out because it performs so well, but Iowa’s passing defense left a lot to be desired in this one, especially in the first half. Illinois QB John Paddock completed 22 of his 47 passes for 215 yards, and he had plenty of open receivers to throw to. It certainly didn’t help that the Hawkeyes lost superstar defensive back Cooper DeJean to a season-ending injury, but this unit needs to perform better if Iowa wants to compete against the nation’s best. 

There were far too many open receivers on comeback routes, and Illinois was able to move the football with ease throughout the first half. This unit did come through in the clutch in the second half, with several batted passes at the line, including on Illinois’ final possession of the game. It will be interesting to see how this secondary can build off of this performance without DeJean leading the way. 

Rushing Offense: C+

One of the main storylines surrounding Iowa’s season has been its inability to run the football consistently. Today, that was the case. The highlight of the day for this unit was Kaleb Johnson’s go-ahead 30-yard touchdown run that put the Hawkeyes on top for good. Johnson and Leshon Williams earned the bulk of the carries, and the results were mixed, at best. Williams led the way with 54 yards rushing, and Johnson was close behind with 53 yards. 

As a team, Iowa had 114 yards rushing, which is simply not going to cut it most of the time. Sure, you can get by with it, but if the Hawkeyes want to pull off a major upset in the Big Ten Championship Game, a consistent run game will be needed. 

Rushing Defense: A  

Even if Illinois didn’t have the same rushing prowess as Rutgers, the Illini ground game was still reduced to nothing against Iowa. Rushing for a net 65 yards on 23 attempts, the Illini averaged less than three yards per rush. Sure, the Hawkeyes allowed a touchdown on the ground, but goal-line stands only happen every so often during a season, and the one the Hawkeyes had two weeks ago at Wrigley Field occurred at a much more critical time. 

Going up against a depleted secondary, Illinois wanted to keep the ball in the air, and it showed, as Paddock threw the ball twice as many times as the Illini kept it on the ground. So even if action was fairly limited, the Hawkeyes refused to allow themselves to get beat on the ground. 

Special Teams: A- 

As I said earlier in the week, Iowa kicker Drew Stevens hasn’t had the best accuracy amidst his heroic last couple of games. On Saturday, such volatility was on full display, as the sophomore missed wide right on a 53-yard try, and then had an extra-point blocked. The missed PAT was his first of the season. While those misses screwed over a lot of gamblers on the Iowa point spread, they are signals that the kicking game needs to get back on its feet. In the postseason, every point will matter that much more, and Iowa can’t afford to leave any tally marks vacant in December and January. 

As for the punting, the legendary Tory Taylor made good on his Joe Burrow-esque entrance, booming eight punts for an average of 54 yards, downing two inside the 20-yard line. It’s safe to say the Hawkeyes will miss having No. 9 out there. At the very least, he brought a smile to fans’ faces after every three-and-out. 

Also not to be remiss is punt returner Kaden Wetjen, who delivered a 17-yard scamper to set up Iowa’s touchdown drive in the fourth quarter. Without that gain and the momentum it provided, the Hawkeyes’ presence in the win column would definitely be in doubt. 

Coaching: C+ 

While I was happy to see Kirk and Brian Ferentz celebrate on the sidelines after the win, Iowa’s coaching was far from perfect on Saturday. Enough to earn the win yes, but lacking enough to potentially cost the Hawkeyes the game. Burning two timeouts in the third quarter is never a good idea for a head coach, and could have proved dangerous if Iowa had to score deeper into the fourth quarter. Also, clock management at the end of the first half was also subpar. 

And while this may not be all on the coaches, it is important to point out Iowa was whisted six times, resulting in 70 yards. Yes, it’s up to players to execute, but coaches need to correct these mistakes before they pile up and create a tangible effect on the scoreboard.  

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About the Contributors
Matt McGowan
Matt McGowan, Pregame Editor
he/him/his Matt McGowan is The Daily Iowan's Pregame Editor. He is a sophomore double majoring in journalism and mass communications and American studies with a minor in sport studies.  This is his second year with the DI
Brad Schultz
Brad Schultz, Sports Reporter
Brad Schultz is a sophomore at the University of Iowa majoring in Journalism and Mass Communication with a minor in Sports Studies. This is first year working as a sports reporter and he has a deep passion and love for sports. Outside of the Daily Iowan, Brad is a contributor for Saturday Blitz, a college football site, with his content primarily covering Iowa and the Big Ten.
Cody Blissett
Cody Blissett, Visuals Editor
Cody Blissett is a visual editor at The Daily Iowan. He is a third year student at the University of Iowa studying cinema and screenwriting. This is his first year working for The Daily Iowan.