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.”


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.

More Fant

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.


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.

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