CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) — The Illinois offense can run, but its porous defense can’t hide. And Iowa knows it.
The Hawkeyes hope to slow the Illini running game and take advantage of one of the nation’s worst defenses to end a three-game skid when Iowa (6-4, 3-4 Big Ten) travels to Champaign.
The Hawkeyes, which started 6-1 before the skid, will put their stumbling offense up against an Illini defense that’s given up an average of 532 yards per game this season — including 606 in last week’s 54-35 loss at Nebraska.
“As you can well imagine, our first goal as a team is to win,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “And our secondary goals are to score points offensively and stop points on the defensive side.
“We spend a lot of time evaluating our team, looking at our team, watching them and then week-to-week trying to figure out what gives us the best chance to do those two things.”
Iowa is coming off a 14-10 home loss to Northwestern. Hawkeye quarterback Nate Stanley threw for 269 yards, but the team generated 64 yards rushing .
Illinois coach Lovie Smith said his team has been working hard in practice to address its issues.
“All those things we talked about with tackling, dropped passes, all those things we need to get fixed,” Smith said this week. “It’s now or never. We know what we’re capable of doing.”
WHAT A RUSH
Illinois (4-6, 2-5) makes up in rushing offense what it lacks in defense. Yet even that bright spot is causing some concern. Star tailback Reggie Corbin left last week’s loss to Nebraska with a foot injury. He’s expected to suit up and play Saturday, though he may see limited carries. Corbin is crucial to the Illini offensive attack. He has rushed for 1,011 yards this season, averaging 8.9 yards per carry, and has nine touchdowns. Running back Mike Epstein injured a foot earlier in the season and Smith said he doesn’t expect him back this year. Ra’Von Bonner and Dre Brown will rotate with Corbin in the backfield, he said.
Iowa quarterback Stanley has been dealing with an injured thumb sustained three weeks ago in a loss to Penn State. Ferentz said he is “doing better.”
“I don’t know if Nate’s 100 percent,” Ferentz said this week. “But he’s certainly doing better and doing fine.”
There was some concern the three-game losing streak might be affecting Stanley, which he brushed off during Tuesday’s press conference.
“I’m just making sure that I stay positive and help my teammates out as much as I can,” Stanley said. “There’s always room to do more.”
Illinois quarterback AJ Bush is a marquee rusher, but his lackluster passing game has garnered some criticism. In Saturday’s loss to Nebraska, Bush was 18-of-25 passing for 216 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He rushed 14 times for 127 yards and two touchdowns.
Many think Iowa will receive a bowl bid of some sort, especially if they can beat Illinois. Six wins is generally the lowest threshold for postseason bowl invitations. The road is much tougher for the Illini, which needs to win against Iowa and Northwestern for any chance.
Hawkeye fans will look for more playing time for Noah Fant, who had a diminished role in the 14-10 loss to Northwestern. The tight end from Omaha South has 35 catches for 453 yards and a team-high six touchdowns, the most in the conference by a tight end. But Fant was on the field for nine of Iowa’s second-half plays last week, and the Mackey Award semifinalist wasn’t on the field at all for the Hawkeye’s final two drives.
ALL IOWA LATELY
Iowa has dominated the series with Illinois the past decade. The Hawkeyes have won nine of the past 10 games by an average of nearly 17 points.
1 of 45
July 1: Air Force's Nic Ready hit a total of 55 home runs, including 21 in the final round, to edge Clemson's Logan Davidson in the College Home Run Derby.
June 28: Oregon State celebrates beating Arkansas 5-0 in Game 3 of the CWS championship series. The Beavers were down to their last out in Game 2 before a fielding blunder by the Razorbacks gave Oregon State a second life, which it took advantage of en route to the program's third CWS title.
June 18: John Olson, and Mary Olson, of Joslyn, Missouri, take cover under ponchos during a rain delay at the College World Series. Weather provided a huge problem in the 2018 CWS.
June 15: Cam'ron Jones checks out Omaha.com, or perhaps Snapchat, during the Huskers' Friday Night Lights camp.
May 19: Fremont's Lucas Arps celebrates after winning the Class A 400-meter dash.
May 19: Lincoln Lutheran's Josie Puelz celebrates after clearing 12-2 in the Class C girls pole vault final.
May 17: Omaha Roncalli's Thomas Alitz cheers after scoring the winning run in the Class B state championship on a hit by Logan McGill with two outs in the seventh inning.
May 17: Omaha Creighton Prep's Eric Allbery, right, jumps on the dogpile as the Junior Jays celebrate their Class A state baseball title.
May 16: South Sioux City celebrates after defeating Elkhorn South in the Class B state soccer championship.
May 16: Kearney's Christian Dakan hoists the Class A state soccer trophy alongside his teammates.
May 14: Millard North celebrates its Class A state championship win against Omaha Marian by kissing the trophy.
May 14: Elkhorn celebrates its Class B championship win against Omaha Skutt.
May 9: Creighton's Will Robertson celebrates with Jack Strunc, left, after homering the fifth inning. The Jays beat UNO 10-6.
May 6: The Omaha Storm Chasers play below the newly dedicated Steve Pivovar Press Box at Werner Park.
April 21: Nebraska coach Scott Frost leads the Huskers during the Tunnel Walk on Saturday.
April 19: Awardee Dante Pettis and former Nebraska football player Johnny Rodgers, right, pictured during the Jet Award dinner.
April 19: Former Nebraska football coach Tom Osborne attends the Jet Award dinner.
April 18: UNO's Malik Moore pitches against Nebraska. The Mavericks knocked off the Huskers for the first time since 1997.
April 11: Creighton's Will Robertson, left, and Thomas Luevano celebrate scoring on a triple by Jack Strunc.
April 11: Elkhorn South's Mo Gohr gains control of the ball in the Metro Conference tournament.
April 3: Scott Frost directs Husker football practice.
March 31: The boy campers pose for a photo at the Athletes' Training Center Futures Camp at Iowa West Field House.
March 27: Creighton defeats Nebraska 3-1 in the first matchup of the year.
March 25: Kansas' Malik Newman drives to the basket, drawing a blocking foul on Duke's Wendell Carter. The Jayhawks went on to defeat the Blue Devils in Omaha and advance to the Final Four.
March 17: Creighton defeats Iowa in the NCAA women's basketball tournament.
March 17: Creighton's bench cheers as Michael Emodi hits a walk-off homer off Wichita State pitcher Chandler Sanburn in the Jays' home opener.
March 12: The Creighton women's basketball team celebrates making the NCAA tournament.
March 10: Wahoo celebrates winning the Class C-1 boys basketball title.
March 10: Nebraska City Lourdes' Quinten Vasa, center, holds up the trophy with his team.
March 9: Glenwood celebrates after winning its first boys basktball state title in school history.
March 3: Scotus' Maggie Feehan celebrates after winning the Class C-1 title.
March 3: Superior celebrates a Class C-2 championship win over Ravenna.
Feb. 25: Nebraska's Duby Okeke enters Pinnacle Bank Arena with his family at his side on senior night. The Huskers went on to defeat Penn State.
Nebraska's Duby Okeke enters Pinnacle Bank Arena with his family at his side on senior night.
Feb. 24: Creighton's Marcus Foster, left, and Davion Mintz celebrate Creighton's 89-83 overtime victory over Villanova.
Feb. 24: Omaha Creighton Prep's Colin LaFave competes in the 100 fly at the state swimming meet.
Feb. 24: Lincoln Southwest's Anna Heinrich, left, and Josie Ford celebrate their first and second-place finishes in the 50 free at the state swimming meet.
Feb. 17: Kearney’s Phillip Moomey is in the top 20 of his weight class in two national polls. Only a handful of underclassmen are ranked ahead of him.
Feb. 17: Omaha Burke's Jakason Burks does a backflip after defeating Millard South's Caleb Coyle during the 106-pound Class A final at the state wrestling championships.
Jan. 28: Omaha Lancers coach and General Manager David Wilkie talks with players during first-period action.
Jan. 26: UNO's Luke Nogard skates past the referee.
Jan. 16: Nebraska's Nicea Eliely gets excited during pregame introductions as the Huskers went on to beat Iowa.
Nebraska's James Palmer celebrates a home victory over Illinois with Isaiah Roby.
Jan. 9: Former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden, left, talks with former Nebraska coach Tom Osborne during the Outland Trophy banquet.
Jan. 4: Omaha Burke's Shereef Mitchell brings the ball up court in the Metro holiday tournament.
Jan. 1: In his final game with Central Florida, now-Nebraska coach Scott Frost raises the Peach Bowl title after defeating Auburn.