After dropping the first three games of the season, Illinois is looking to extend their winning streak to three games. After getting embarrassed in two out of the first three games, the Illini have found a way to right the ship. With two ranked teams left on the schedule, finishing the season with two straight losses is a realistic possibility. Illinois needs to find a way to win one of those matchups. This weekend, the Illini take on the Iowa Hawkeyes.
It’s Homecoming Weekend for the Illini. That means one thing – Bring out the Grey Ghost Unis, baby. The last time the Illini played on Homecoming weekend, they upset No. 6 Wisconsin. Now that was a fun weekend. Not only did the Illini upset Wisconsin, but it was the beloved Daniel Street Kams’ last weekend before being knocked down. That made it one heck of a Homecoming for the Illini. I don’t think this weekend will top that one. The Fighting Illini can still make it a good weekend with a win over Iowa.
Last Year’s Matchup
Last year in Iowa City, the Hawkeyes held on to win 19-10. You don’t see Illinois in many defensive battles, yet that’s what we got a year ago. Illinois, coming off wins over Wisconsin, Purdue, Rutgers, and Michigan State, were riding high until Iowa ended the streak. The only touchdown the Illini defense allowed was on Iowa’s first drive of the game. Kicker Keith Duncan did the rest, outscoring Illinois by himself on 4 field goals. Iowa had a stingy defense in 2019, only allowing 12.4 ppg. The Illini offense couldn’t get anything going either. Illinois battled, but ultimately came up short.
Is Brandon Peters going into this game thinking it’s a revenge game? Last year’s matchup included one of the worst missed targeting call many have ever seen. Undoubtedly, Illinois fans remember. With three minutes left in the game, Brandon Peters got hit in the head well after letting go of a pass. No call. After the refs reviewed the play? Still no call. After the game, the usually-quiet Lovie Smith said, “I’ll just say it’s kind of obvious what it was. If that’s not targeting, what is?”
A Look Into the Illini
I don’t think anybody has the Illini figured out yet this year. Are they good? Are they bad? They’ve been both so far. After two blowouts in three games, it seemed like they’d regressed. Illinois then beat an improved Rutgers squad and a team they’ve struggled with in Nebraska. They didn’t just beat Nebraska either. They dominated them. That’s not something Illinois has been able to say in a conference game recently.
Illinois hasn’t been able to stay healthy this year. On top of injuries, Illinois had a small COVID outbreak in their program. After playing Wisconsin, who had players test positive for COVID, Illinois had a few players test positive. Illinois kept it under control, so they didn’t have to miss any games. Illinois has had only two games with mostly everyone healthy. Sure, they got dismantled by Wisconsin in the opener. In the other game, they dominated Nebraska. So which team is the 2020 version?
In a normal year, this team would finish in the middle of the B1G. I believe they’d be right around .500 at the end of the year, a successful year for Illinois. Sitting at 2-3, a 3-4 would be a success in my book. After everything that’s happened, that would be best case for the Illini.
Iowa, after losing their first two games of the year, have turned their season around, having won four straight. This streak includes blowouts of Michigan State, Minnesota, Penn State and a close win over Nebraska. The Iowa defense is once again stingy, giving up only 16.7 ppg this year. Illinois averages 21.2 ppg on offense, so this should be a low-scoring game. Maybe not as low scoring as last year’s 19-10 Iowa win, but still a low-scoring game.
Iowa struggled their first two games in losses to Purdue and Northwestern. Northwestern has shown they have one of the best defenses in the nation. The Purdue loss is a headscratcher, as the Boilermakers sit at 2-3. Iowa also struggled to get past Nebraska, while Illinois cruised past. It’s a hard game to predict.
Iowa is with a new starting quarterback after Nate Stanley graduated. Spencer Petras is the man under center. Petras has only four passing touchdowns compared to five interceptions on the year. Tyler Goodson, Iowa’s leading rusher from last year, returns.
If the Illini can force turnovers like they did against Nebraska, they should be able to pull this one out. Brandon Peters played great in Lincoln two weeks ago. He didn’t have to throw a lot, but he did exactly what was asked of him. Peters finished with 205 yards passing and a touchdown with no turnovers. On the ground, Peters added 36 yards and a touchdown. Chase Brown had 110 yards on the ground with two touchdowns, and Mike Epstein led the team in yards with 113 yards rushing and a touchdown. The Illini are going to need that kind of production again if they want a shot at knocking off Iowa.
You never know what Fighting Illini team is going to show up. This should be a close game.
Prediction: Iowa 31, Illinois 28
This contest will begin at 2:30 p.m. CT and will air on FS1.