A look at the scoreline suggest the Iowa Hawkeyes did exactly what they were supposed to do on Saturday. Iowa won 45-16 and that seemed about right, but it wasn’t as easy as the scoreboard suggested.
The Hawkeyes were down 13-10 in the second quarter and playing some poor football all the way around. Everything changed on one play in the third quarter though.
Iowa safety Brandon Synder returned to the lineup for the first time this season and he picked a heck of a time for a comeback…literally. Synder picked off a Jeff George Jr. effort deep in Iowa territory and returned it 89 yards for a Hawkeyes touchdown.
What could’ve been a 20-17 deficit in the third quarter turned in to a 24-13 lead. It also seemed to be the catalyst that sparked the Hawkeyes offense.
“They (Illinois) were driving the ball, and they did a good job today offensively,” said head coach Kirk Ferentz following the game. “Their offense did. To come up with that play to get the interception was big, and then to turn it into points was even bigger. Just seemed like that got us moving.”
Illinois was never the same after that pick-six, responding back with a lowly 40-yard field goal by Chase McLaughlin to make it 24-16.
The Hawkeyes ripped off three fourth quarter touchdowns following that pick-six and cruised to the 45-16 win.
Hidden in the scoring output where great seconds half performances by Iowa’s two biggest offensive weapons — Nate Stanley and Akrum Wadley.
Stanley completed just 17 of 32 passes on the day, but he went for 247 yards and three touchdowns to one interception. Wadley added 115 yards and a touchdown rushing and receiving. He had an even day on the ground with 58 yards in the first half to go with 57 yards in the second.
Wide receiver Nick Easley put up a game-high seven receptions for 59 yards and Noah Fant showed the big play ability that should worry teams going forward. He had just three catches, but led the Hawkeyes with 78 yards and a long of 41 yards on the day.
That was certainly good news after seeing the offense screech to a halt the last two weeks against Penn State and at Michigan State.
While the good news is Iowa’s offense came to life, it took awhile to get going and looked like an 0-3 start could’ve been a real possibility in the first half. All of that against one of the Big Ten’s worst defenses.
It’s up to Ferentz and Co. to figure out how to get this offense rolling quicker. So far, they haven’t been able to solve that puzzle. But, Ferentz doesn’t seem too worried that is team won’t figure it out.
“What’s important is how you respond to frustration and where you put your focus,” said Ferentz. “Where you put your energy, and then also what you do during the week, what can you do to be a better prepared team and learn from whatever has caused frustration in previous weeks, that type of thing, and that’s an ongoing process.”
“That’s really the race that we’re all running right now.”
Let’s see if the spark that lit this team against Illinois can stay lit the rest of the way. If so, Iowa is going to be a team to pay attention to. If not, the Hawkeyes are in some real trouble the rest of the year.