Here is a quick primer for Iowa’s game at Illinois, which kicks off at 2:30 p.m. Saturday:
FIVE THINGS TO WATCH
Iowa hasn’t played since beating Wisconsin 38-16 on Oct. 18 and is coming off the program’s first bye week since 2005. Big Ten teams are only 2-4 coming off of byes this season, and the Hawkeyes will be looking to reverse the trend. They were playing their best football since 2004 before the layoff. Will it continue? Or will there be rust?
Ferentz and the Zooker
Illinois coach Ron Zook has led quite the turnaround, taking the Illini from back-to-back 2-10 seasons to 9-4 and a Rose Bowl berth last year. One thing he has never done is beat Kirk Ferentz. He was 0-1 at Florida and is 0-3 at Illinois. Because of the Big Ten’s rotating schedule, this is his last chance until 2011.
It’s pretty simple. Led by quarterback Juice Williams and receiver Arrelious Benn, Illinois’ offense thrives on big plays. Iowa’s defense plays conservatively and has not given up many plays longer than 20 yards this season. Something has got to give. Will the Illini bust loose? Or will the Hawkeyes contain Illinois’ explosive weapons?
Built Ford tough
Iowa players and coaches knew they’d see a lot of true freshman running back Jason Ford, who twice committed to the Hawkeyes before landing at Illinois. Now, Ford might be the starter because starter Daniel Dufrene’s status is uncertain. Ford has rushed for 234 yards and five touchdowns this year.
Illinois just finished a $100 million renovation of Memorial Stadium, adding luxury suites and a new press box while also reshuffling other seating. The renovation actually decreased the capacity from more than 69,000 to 62,870. A sellout crowd is expected Saturday. The stadium was rededicated Sept. 6, and the Illini are 3-1 in their new digs.
WHO HAS THE EDGE
When the Hawkeyes have the ball
Shonn Greene is averaging 162 yards rushing in Big Ten Conference play. Illinois ranks ninth in the league against the run. Advantage Hawkeyes. Greene is coming off a 217-yard, four-touchdown effort against Wisconsin, and will be well-rested against a tired Illini defense. Advantage: Iowa
When the Illini have the ball
Iowa has had its way with Juice Williams in the past, but this is a very different Illinois quarterback we’re talking about this season. While Iowa’s defense ranks as one of the best in the nation, it has not seen the likes of Williams or the Illini offense as a whole. Advantage: Illinois
Iowa has the edge in almost every area of special teams play. Trent Mossbrucker leads the Big Ten in field-goal accuracy, while punter Ryan Donahue was just announced as a Ray Guy Award finalist. And Andy Brodell is dangerous on punt return. Illinois kicker Matt Eller is 5-for-6 from beyond 40 yards. Advantage: Iowa
This one is almost too close to call. Both teams need a win to jockey for bowl position. Illinois needs one worse. Iowa has gone two games without a turnover and might be due, and Juice Williams will make the Hawkeyes pay with a few big plays. Illinois 28, Iowa 24