By Pete Ruden
Iowa finally found its offense again in its 45-16 Homecoming win over Illinois on Oct. 7 in Kinnick.
While the first half was a lot closer than many would have thought — the Illini went into halftime down only 4 — the second half opened up the game for the Hawkeyes.
Iowa scored 28 points in the third and fourth quarters and held the Illinois offense to just 3. The boost in scoring was exactly what the Hawkeyes needed after scoring just 10 points at Michigan State last week.
“We were resilient. You just gotta be consistent,” running back Akrum Wadley said. “Last week, we weren’t that good as a unit. It’s good that we bounced back.”
Wadley played a key role in the win. After rushing for just 30 yards against the Spartans, he racked up 115 yards on the ground to go along with a touchdown, while also scoring through the air.
There was also noticeable change in the passing attack.
Nate Stanley threw for 247 yards and 3 touchdowns, which raised him to No. 2 in the Big Ten and top eight in the country with 15 passing touchdowns on the season.
He spread the ball around in the process, hitting six different receivers, something that Iowa hasn’t done in recent games.
Iowa has played in many close games during the season, and the lessons learned are starting to show.
“I think we just continue to fight,” Stanley said. “If something’s not going well, we’ve just continued to grind it out and get scores when you need them. Being able to continue to play no matter the circumstances is something that I think we’ve done pretty well this year.”
The defense, on the other hand, didn’t play up to its usual standards in some fashions.
Despite giving up only 16 points, Illinois gained 446 yards, even though it went into the game averaging just 267.3 yards per game.
The most important thing Iowa did, though, was force turnovers. Illini quarterback Jeff George Jr. threw 3 interceptions, and Anthony Nelson forced a fumble that Iowa recovered.
While there were a lot of them, no turnover was bigger than Brandon Snyder’s Pick-6 in the third quarter.
Trailing 17-13, Illinois was driving and had the ball at Iowa’s 22. Instead of going ahead, Snyder turned the tables in his first game back from ACL surgery.
“I can’t say enough about the work that he’s done when he’s been away from the field and not able to be out there in the huddle,” head coach Kirk Ferentz said about Snyder. “For him to get a Pick-6 today and give us a spark like he did, that’s just really poetic justice, if you will.”
Heading into the bye week, Iowa’s win will prove to be a big one. Instead of going into the off week with a 3-3 record and no conference wins, the Hawkeyes own a 4-2 record and picked up their first Big Ten victory of the year.
Stanley said the bye week will be a good time for Iowa to keep working and clean up the mistakes it has made in the first six games.
“Obviously, we want to continue to do the good things that we did all week,” he said. “Also, those bad things that we did, we have an extra week to get them corrected. Being able to utilize the bye week efficiently is something that’ll be pretty big for us.”