The Illinois Fighting Illini are headed to Kinnick Stadium to take on the Iowa Hawkeyes in a matchup that is simply for bragging rights and bowl placement assuming Minnesota and Wisconsin take care of business against lesser opponents. This is a 12:00 EST start time in Iowa City and the Hawkeyes are currently -15.5 in this one.
Hawkeyes Big Favorite
Let’s dive right into the line on this game that is currently set at -15.5 in favor of the Hawkeyes. This kind of line for a team like Iowa is terrifying because they have not shown a lot of offensive explosiveness this season. While they do have some talent on the outside, particularly with Smith-Marsette, they have not been able to gain chunk yardage throughout the season.
I think that the Iowa pass blocking will play a huge role in the offense here. Against the best teams that Iowa has played, the line has struggled in pass protection even though they are a relatively talented unit. While Illinois is not even close to teams like Penn State and Michigan in terms of pass rush efficiency, they are not horrible either.
I expect Iowa to have more success downfield than they have had in their losses and close games, but this will not be a cupcake matchup. This Iowa team is very similar offensively to the Wisconsin team that Illinois beat a while back. Iowa is just less talented than Wisconsin, which is even better for the Fighting Illini.
On the ground, I expect the Hawkeyes to have mild success. If Jonathan Taylor cannot run all over the Illini, then I see no reason with Sargent does either. However, I do think that the Hawkeyes will air the ball out a bit more to try and gain a lead early, which may open up bigger holes than the Badgers could manage.
Illinois Running the Ball
When Illinois gets the ball, they will likely depend on a heavy ground attack, but I think it is safe to say that this will not be entirely effective. Illinois will struggle to run the ball with any consistency and I expect them to eventually fall behind because of this reason.
The key to the cover for the Illini is their passing game needs to make two or three plays to keep them in the game, just like they did with Wisconsin. Illinois is more talented on offense than most people realize and they really haven’t done that well to use that talent that they did not have two years ago. However, we have seen them step up in big moments and make plays when their backs are up against the wall in recent weeks and this will need to be the case here.
They should have their hands full up front with A.J. Epenesa, but Illinois has one of the best pass blocking grades in the entire country out of nowhere. I think that Epenesa will make a play or two, but I do not expect him to make Illinois feel as though they can’t run a play that requires a 5 or 7-step drop.
While I do not feel comfortable betting this game at all because of the style of play, I like the Fighting Illini to cover here. This team plays with a lot of grit and they have shown to be tough in the face of adversity. Coming off of a bye week late in the season, I expect Illinois to show a bit more intensity than the Hawkeyes, who are coming off of a win over an undefeated and 8th ranked team in the country. While I expect the Hawkeyes to control the game, I think the number is too big against a pesky Illinois team. Bet Illinois at our favorite pay per head bookie site RealBookies.
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