Saturday, November 17, 2018

Illini Football shut out on Senior Day

Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley prepares for a snap in the late-going of the third quarter of Saturday's game between the Hawkeyes and the Fighting Illini. Iowa went on to win the game, 63-0. PHOTO / ALEX STAAB
Champaign, Ill. - It was the last home game of the year at Memorial Stadium on Saturday, as the Illinois Fighting Illini (4-7) (2-6) played host to the Iowa Hawkeyes (7-4) (4-4) on Senior Day for the Illini.

Illinois would honor nine seniors before the game, Nick Allegretti, AJ Bush Jr., Mike Dudek, Zach Holman, Sam Mays, Chase McLaughlin, Shaedon Meadors, Del'Shawn Phillips, and Austin Roberts.

Game 11 got off to a decent start for the Illini. An interception for Phillips one the first drive of the game for Iowa. After the Illini worked roughly two minutes off of the clock, a sack for Bush Jr. doomed Illinois' chances of scoring right away, or what turned out to be, at all.

On the second try for Iowa, a first down pass early on in the drive provided a spark, and a down field pass into the end zone was not brought in, but rather, overthrown, and the Hawkeyes would have to punt.

It would end up being about as good of a punt as you could ask for if you're Iowa. The Hawkeyes fell on the ball at the Illinois two yard line.

Despite a 10-yard run by Ra'Von Bonner, the Illini would still have to punt. Being pinned back as far as they were, the punt would give Iowa good field position for their next try at the end zone, as a 14-yard return put them in Illinois territory.

It took almost two minutes, but Iowa would be the first ones to crack into the scoring, with a nine-yard pass from quarterback Nate Stanley to tight end Noah Fant plus the extra point attempt put the visiting Hawkeyes up 7-0.

Heading into this one, both teams were averaging fewer than 30 points per game, so on paper, fans may have seen this as a low-scoring, drag it out-type matchup. Iowa was plenty of scores away from being done.

What didn't help the Illini was star running back Reggie Corbin going out with an injury at the 5:35 mark of the opening quarter.

Allegretti said that Corbin's injury, although was a negative in the game, they felt that still had the right pieces in place.

"Losing Reggie (Corbin) hurts, he is a great player. With Coach Rod's (Smith) scheme, we should have been able to be successful. We did not execute well enough."

Both sides would trade drives that ended in punts to round out the quarter. Illinois' Bobby Roundtree would find his way into the backfield for a sack that turned into an Iowa punt, but that would be it for the first.

It took all of three plays for the Hawkeyes to add on. A three-yard rush by Mekhi Sargent made it 14-0.

The very next play, Iowa's AJ Epenesa recovered a fumble from Bonner and took it back for a touchdown. 21-0.

Illinois' game would not get better. A delay of game and a sack got the next drive going, and it ended in a blocked punt that was returned to the Illinois 11 yard line and promptly became a passing touchdown right afterwards to make it 28-0 with 13:42 still remaining until the half.

The next drive, Illinois was able to move the ball more, 19 yards to be exact, but another punt gave the ball back to the Hawkeyes.

Give it about two minutes, and another score off a 37-yard TD pass from Stanley to Hockenson to make it 35-0, which set the score at half.

Illinois would have a chance inside Iowa territory with under a minute to go. A six-yard run by Bush Jr. was followed by the quarterback throwing three consecutive incomplete passes, and the Hawkeyes had officially held the Illini scoreless at half.

Despite the low-scoring opening 30 minutes, the Illini had a chance to redeem themselves right away, having the ball to start the second half. A seven yard run by Bonner would be the only positive yardage the Illini would get. They'd be forced to punt. The Blake Hayes punt would go 47 yards and be downed at the Iowa 21. That would seem like a good spot to start for Iowa from Illinois' perspective. However, there was a flag on the play, which became holding against Illinois.

The second try at the punt for Hayes didn't go quite as long. 39 yards to be exact. Iowa's Kyle Groeneweg would take it to the house for a 61-yard touchdown to make it 42-0.

After a decent break, the Illini would find their way back into Iowa territory on their next drive. At the Iowa 46, AJ Bush went for the short pass. Intercepted. Iowa's Amani Hooker returned the interception nearly 40 yards all the way inside the red zone.

In what may have been their longest scoring drive of the game, the Hawkeyes managed to put up another score before the quarter ran out of time to go up 49-0 on a five-yard run.

Numerous fans had already made their way to the exits of Memorial Stadium. At the start of the fourth quarter, at initial glance, it seemed like the Hawkeye faithful came in big numbers, just spread throughout the stands.

One positive for the Illini again would be working their way into the opposite side of the 50. On fourth and 12, they would decide to go for it. A pass from Bush Jr. to Dominic Stampley was caught, but only five yards were gained after Stampley went out of bounds.

Four Iowa plays later, Sargent runs it in from just inside the 20 to make it 56-0.

Somehow, the Hawkeyes still weren't done. Probably satisfied, but wanted to go out on an even higher note.

A series of rushes by Sargent made up almost every play of the Iowa drive, but it was a 14-yard rush by Toren Young that set the final score of 63-0.

The 63-point loss is the largest in the history of the matchup. The previous best coming in 1985, when the Hawkeyes beat the Illini, 59-0.

They Said It | Head Coach Lovie Smith
General Statement:
"We had an idea what they would do. We knew we needed to play well on both lines. We knew that who controlled the line of scrimmage normally wins, but that was definitely the case. Defensively, we had not played good defense in a long time. We knew they would come in and lean on the run. We knew they had good tight ends. That’s what they were able to do. Part of the passing game early on with the cross routes really hurt us. In the end, they were able to run the football. They dominated and it starts up front again. Our defensive line played good football. You cannot turn the ball over like we did today. After a performance like this, the only thing that can help you salvage a season is to have your rival coming up.”

On not getting positive results after the first takeaway:
“It definitely set the stage. In an ideal world, if you don’t get the football initially and score,
you’d like to get a takeaway. That kind of told us a little bit about what kind of day it would be.”

On Senior Day:
“It is tough if their career just ended with this game. Again, luckily, there is another chance we
have to leave a good taste in their mouth, but it has to be disappointing for your last home
game to play like that.”

On how his defense prepared for today's game:
“Very prepared. You do not go into a game thinking you are not prepared. We practiced hard all
week and still feel that way. Today it did not work.”

On the abilities of the tight ends from Iowa:
“You can play man-to-man coverage, you can play zone coverage. We played them both. They
completed balls in both situations.”

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