May 30, 2024

The Illinois Fighting Illini enter Saturday one win away from bowl eligibility—and still in the running to win the ridiculous Big Ten West—after an intriguing, puzzling victory over Indiana last week. Illinois

must defeat the Iowa Hawkeyes at Kinnick Stadium in order to secure the former and secure a spot in the latter.

We had a conversation with Jonah Parker of SB Nation’s Iowa website, Black Heart Gold Pants, the night before this divisional matchup in Iowa City.Illinois needs to go back to what worked - The Champaign Room

TCR I’ve spent my entire life watching Big Ten football, and Iowa has perfected the art of “winning ugly.” It’s simultaneously annoying, boring, and hilarious. Given that they may have the worst offence in the nation this season, could you elaborate on how this seems to work for them and them alone?


BHGP: I believe that Kirk Ferentz’s apparent desire to do this is a major factor in why it seems to only work at Iowa. The majority of coaches are keen to score points in an effort to win games, but Ferentz now finds it almost amusing to see how much he can scoff at the idea of having to score.higher to win.


Throughout his 24 years in the state, Iowa’s defence has been good to great, but during the past ten or so years, it has improved to the point where it is almost great. After that, he appears to have adopted the belief that having a lot of offensive variance—specifically, turnovers—is the only way to lose. Thus, we’ve observed a consistent drop in output there along with an increasingly cautious strategy.

For some reason, he doesn’t seem to understand that a conservative strategy kills time of possession, which is the foundation of his “complementary football” style, in addition to yielding fewer points. As the focus of opposing defences shifts from the run game to theWe’ve seen a steady drop in ToP, an increase in 3-and-outs (last week being the exception), and a decrease in offensive inventiveness in the passing game.


It’s difficult to see this strategy continuing to function as it has for the past few years if we don’t see that shift.

TCR: Against Rutgers, Kaleb Brown had a bit of a breakthrough performance. He possesses the kind of playmaking ability that Iowa’s wide receivers have rarely possessed. What catches your attention?


BHGP: For fans of the Hawkeyes, Brown is an intriguing case study. Considering what I mentioned in my answer to your initial query, it’s easy to understand why Iowa has had trouble luring elite wide receiver talent. However, with a redesigned offence being sold by Cade McNamara, this season promised significant playing time for any incoming wide receiver. Those hopes have been completely dashed by injuries, but playing time has continued.


Ohio State transfer Kaleb Brown was not in the game for nearly the first eight weeks of the season, even with the available playing time. Brown didn’t really see the field much in the first half of the season, despite the fact that we saw McNamara’s first pass as a Hawkeye go 36 yards to the house to fellow transfer wide receiver Seth Anderson. We did see a few glimpses of Brown after McNamara went down, but to be honest, he had trouble with drops while Deacon Hill displayed far less touch than the former starter.


But over the past two weeks, it appears that Brown has finally seen the light, and it has been much needed. Two weeks prior, he had set up the game-winning field goal against Northwestern with a 23-yard pass from Hill.and last week he caught three passes for 27 yards and his first touchdown of the season. After that catch against NW, it appears that he has gained the confidence of offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz, and we witnessed a significant expansion of his role last week.


Though he isn’t particularly big at 5’11”, he is built like a running back and has more speed than anyone else in the wide receiver room. He can break tackles and go up and get contested catches, two things that this struggling offence sorely needs.

TCR: AD Beth Goetz’s announcement mid-season that offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz would not be returning has received a lot of attention. Do you think this indicates that Kirk Ferentz’s time is running out too?

BHGP: It’s no secret that Kirk was displeased with the announcement’s timing. In Iowa, the prevailing opinion is that the elder Ferentz was not overly surprised by his son’s dismissal, and to be honest, Brian was probably going to leave after the season anyhow (he was supposedly on his way to the NFL a year ago). However, Kirk disagreed with the mid-season announcement, as it goes against his philosophy of handling coaching changes (in 24 years, we’ve never seen a coachended in mid-season.


Although he was obviously upset by it and has been very emotional after the game ever since, I don’t think Kirk’s career is over. Supporters often overlook the distinct mental makeup required to be a head coach at a power five school. If you do something for 25 years, you probably won’t know how to live without it. It’s just not possible to imagine a guy suddenly switching to a hobby you’ve never had time for in your life after dedicating every waking moment to teaching children how to play football. For better or worse, I believe KF will be in charge for at least five more years.

TCR: Teams that aim to play extremely similar football styles include Iowa and Illinois. In the “new” Big Ten, with fast-paced offences like Oregon, Washington, USC, and UCLA joining the league, do you think that philosophy can still succeed?

BHGP: I realise I’m probably the odd man out in the fan base, but I do believe this style can succeed. I think the frustration of how awful the offence has been the last three seasons is skewing my judgement a little. Put another way, a team like Iowa cannot expect to score under 20 points per game going forward with the talent gap that comes with being in this area by geography.


However, Kirk Ferentz developed the programme with the notion that outperforming opponents, controlling the clock with a potent running game, cutting possessions short, and exercising greater discipline are the keys to closing the talent gap. For over 20 years, that strategy has allowed the Hawkeyes to compete with teams with greater talent, and I don’t see how conference expansion will alter that.


In fact, I believe Iowa tends to favour that strategy, so it might be the immigrants who must adjust. Hawkeye supporters will undoubtedly remember the last time Iowa played a more gifted, potent USC offence, even though it was a few years ago. With total dominance, it was one of OC Brian Ferentz’s best offensive performances to date. The current Pac-12 struggles to prevent teams from scoring points, just as much as the Big Ten West struggles to score points.

TCR: On November 6, 1999—the last time Illinois triumphed at Kinnick—what were you doing?

BHGP: I was born, unlike every player who was going to Kinnick on Saturday. But I have no idea where I was that autumn when I was twelve.daily. I don’t remember many fall Saturdays in the late nineties, given the status of the programme at the time.

To maintain the home winning streak, all I can hope for is that the Hawkeyes can get things back up. My nine-year-old has been asking a lot of questions the past two years because he has been losing to rivals he has never faced before.

TCR What do you think this game will turn out like? Who won seven games as a team, first?

BHGP: This one really divides me. In any other week, the winner would undoubtedly be the first team to ten. But given what I saw from both teams a week ago, I could see this one going a few different ways. Although I believe Iowa’s offensive output was an anomaly, the Illinois defence did not appear to be what I had remembered from a year ago andthat expands on things a little bit more than I had anticipated.


In addition, Iowa’s defence is somewhat strengthened by the news of Cooper DeJean’s absence. With backup wide receiver T.J. Hall probably sidelined as well, the Hawkeyes are extremely thin in the secondary and have struggled to get to the quarterback this season. I anticipate that the Illini will attempt a few shots, which could either force Iowa to give up points in a difficult situation or result in more turnovers than we’ve seen so far this season.


In the end, I believe we obtain a middle ground. I believe Iowa starts off sluggish and allows Illinois to jump on the board early. The defence wakes up and drags the Illini into the black, but the offence is still the offence and manages to score a few points of its own.before delivering a late knockout blow.

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