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Iowa Hawkeyes vs. Illinois Fighting Illini Prediction and Preview

Iowa Hawkeyes vs. Illinois Fighting Illini Prediction and Preview

Iowa Hawkeyes vs. Illinois Fighting Illini Prediction and Preview

Saturday's matchup of Iowa vs. Illinois features a pair of Big Ten teams in need of a rebound, but for different reasons. The Hawkeyes (6-4, 3-4 Big Ten) look to snap their three-game losing streak while the Fighting Illini (4-6, 2-5) need to win their last two games if they want to become bowl eligible.

Iowa has dropped its last two road games (Penn State, Purdue) and then fell at home last week to Northwestern in a game that secured the Big Ten West title for the Wildcats. These last three losses have come by a total of 12 points, so the Hawkeyes will look to reverse their fortunes on the road against Illinois.

The Illini have lost three of their last four, including last week's 54-35 setback at Nebraska. Illinois must beat Iowa at home and then take down Northwestern on the road if it wants to break its three-year bowl drought.

The Hawkeyes have won the last four and nine of the past 10 meetings between the two division rivals.

Iowa at Illinois

Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 17 at 3:30 p.m. ET


Spread: Iowa -14.5

Three Things to Watch

1. Illinois' ground attack

Despite the fact that the Illini have lost three of four, they’ve scored 143 total points during this stretch and a good chuck of it has come courtesy of their running game. In the last four games alone, Illinois has run for 1,255 yards and 13 touchdowns. For the season, they are averaging 262.8 rushing yards per game, good for second in the Big Ten and eighth nationally. They also are averaging 6.3 yards per carry, a number that's topped by just four other teams (Oklahoma, Clemson, Memphis, Pittsburgh). Junior running back Reggie Corbin leads the way with 1,011 yards (third in the Big Ten) and nine touchdowns on the ground, but plenty of Illinois players have gotten in on the act.

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Not surprisingly, Illinois has been a run-heavy team, featuring a 62/38 run vs. pass split. The Illini have been quite successful staying grounded, but it may have a tough game finding running room against an Iowa defense that ranks sixth nationally at just 96 rushing yards per game allowed.

2. Nate Stanley makes Iowa's offense go

Despite the fact the Hawkeyes have lost three in a row, their senior quarterback has done his part. Although he struggled with his accuracy on the road against Penn State, Stanley has completed nearly two thirds of his pass attempts over the last two games with two touchdowns and no interceptions. He's thrown for nearly 550 yards in that span as well while Iowa's ground game has managed a total of 182 rushing yards.

For the season, Stanley is tied for second in the Big Ten with 18 touchdown passes and he's thrown just eight interceptions. He is proof that head coach Kirk Ferentz’s pro-style offense can still work in today’s college game, and could be in line for decent numbers given Illinois' defensive struggles. If the Illini want to win on Saturday they must pressure Stanley early and often to try and disrupt his rhythm.

3. Illinois’ defensive struggles continue

Over their last five games, the Illini have surrendered 243 points and 2,912 yards of offense. In the one game they won in that stretch (vs. Minnesota), Illinois still gave up 31 points and 438 yards to the Golden Gophers. The Illini have the worst rushing defense in the Big Ten (and 122nd nationally) at as every conference opponent not named Rutgers has run for at least 178 yards and four different teams have topped the 300-yard mark on the ground.

Iowa's offense isn't the most explosive or prolific, as the Hawkeyes rank 10th in the Big Ten in yards (385.7) and points (28.4) per game. But Stanley and company can chew up plenty of clock, control the tempo, and wear down a defense to protect a lead. The Illini need to jump on the Hawkeyes early to prevent this from happening. It also wouldn't hurt if the defense could find a way to get Iowa's offense off the field on third down or force a turnover or two.

Final Analysis

This is not new territory for the Hawkeyes. They bounced back from a two-game losing streak late last season and wound up winning their final two games to finish 2017 with an 8-5 record. They’ve also won their last four meetings with the Illini, outscoring them 132-50 in those games. Iowa's offense is more methodical than explosive, but the Hawkeyes should be able to take advantage of Illinois' defensive issues. The Illini need this game to have a shot at bowl eligibility, but the Hawkeyes will be the ones that leave Memorial Stadium victorious.

College Football Rankings: Iowa Football

Prediction: Iowa 34, Illinois 24

— Gabe Salgado is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He's a co-host of The Rewind Sports: 60. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.