Fizzled in Champaign
By Marc Morehouse
(Jonathan D. Woods/The Gazette)
Cutline creditJonathan D. Woods/The Gazette CutlineIowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi walks off the field after the Hawkeyes’ 27-24 loss to Illinois on Saturday at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, Ill. Iowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi walks off the field after the Hawkeyes’ 27-24 loss to Illinois on Saturday at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, Ill.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Minus-1, incomplete, incomplete.
Field goal. Or missed field goal, in this particular case.
Minus-1. Field goal. Sack, incomplete, 9-yard pass on third-and-19. Field goal.
That was Iowa’s day. That was pretty much the game. That wasn’t the season, but that was the championship portion of the season. No one said the road to the something- something bowl was going to be easy.
Illinois wanted and needed this more than Iowa and played like it, turning two Iowa turnovers into 10 points during the Fighting Illini’s 27-24 victory in front of 62,870 fans Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
Matt Eller’s 46-yard field goal with 24 seconds left lifted the Fighting Illini (5-4, 3-3 Big Ten). This mega-clutch kick, which boomed inside the left upright, came after Shonn Greene’s 5-yard touchdown run and Ricky Stanzi’s two-point conversion pass to Allen Reisner tied it at 24-24 with 2:46 remaining in the game.
Close. Great effort. Turnovers.
That was Iowa’s day. That is Iowa’s season.
The Hawkeyes (5-4, 2-3) have now lost four games this season by a grand total of 12 points. In the last three-plus seasons, Iowa is 0-for-9 in games decided by three points or less. That’s the definition of agony.
“I’m getting tired of losing,” defensive tackle Mitch King said. “A blowout, close game, one point, I’m just tired of losing. It sucks.”
Illini quarterback Juice Williams, who bounces from embattled to brilliant any given week, was brilliant this week, completing 22 of 37 for 272 yards and a touchdown. On the final drive, Williams completed 7 of 10 for 56 yards and moved the Illini to Iowa’s 24. On third-and-1, Pat Angerer and Diauntae Morrow stopped running back Mike Leshoure for a 5-yard loss.
Eller came into this game 9 of 13 and eighth in the Big Ten with a 69.2 field goal percentage. He didn’t flinch.
“Just chill and realize this is what it’s all about,” Eller said. “This is what I’ve dreamed about since I was a little kid, so just go out there and have fun and think about the reward from it.”
His parents visited from Florida. He had an uncle up from Alabama. “I had to show them some love,” he said.
Iowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi, so steady the last two games after a turnover-filled start to his Big Ten career, was turnover-filled, throwing an interception that led to a field goal and taking a sack and fumble at the hands of Illini cornerback Dere Hicks, who returned it 7 yards for a 24-9 lead early in the fourth quarter.
He finished 11 of 29 for 191 yards, two interceptions and a TD pass. Stanzi didn’t dwell on the turnovers — he has eight in five Big Ten games. The thing that got to him was Iowa’s performance in the red zone, especially the first half.
Stanzi wasn’t stopping to happily accept a question that was phrased, “You looked like Tom Brady in the fourth quarter.” No, Stanzi wasn’t having that. He’s smarter than that.
“I think Tom Brady would’ve put the points on the board in the first half,” Stanzi said. “And then not worry about it. He probably would’ve been sitting down with 40 points.”
Things went cold for Iowa when it couldn’t take advantage of excellent field position early in the second quarter.
Trailing 7-0, Iowa had a possession from its 45 end in a failed 30-yard field goal. Then a possession that started at Illinois’ 22 after an Amari Spievey interception went for a 19-yard field goal. Finally, a drive that started at its 49 ended in with an interception and an Illini field goal for a 10-6 halftime lead.
That’s 2-for-3 in the red zone for two field goals. And it wasn’t helped by 0-for-6 on third down in the half.
“We’ve been down this road before, in tight ballgames, tough losses,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said. “Those things usually end up showing up in the end.”
The Hawkeyes traveled this road during a three-game losing streak this season. Two of those losing themes popped up again Saturday. There was the red zone offense, clicking at 4 of 5 but settling for field goals far too often. There was the third down conversions, where the Hawkeyes were a woeful 3 of 14.
Close. Great effort (tying the game after being down 24-9 in the fourth quarter). Turnovers.
Yeah, the Hawks have been down this road. This time, it could lead to the Detroit bowl.
“Well, you learn more from adversity than from being on top,” King said, “but I’d rather finish on top.”
That match-up against No. 3 Penn State (9-0, 5-0) next week at Kinnick Stadium had a little luster buffed off it. The “Greene out” the Iowa student section planned for Greene also faded. The junior, whose Heisman profile grew during Iowa’s bye week, gained 103 yards, moving his streak of 100 yard games to nine, but he wasn’t the dominant factor he had been in Iowa’s first four Big Ten games.
In fact, the day’s tone was set on third-and-goal at Illinois’ 1. Strong safety Donsay Hardeman blitzed and linebacker Rodney Pittman followed up to stop Greene for 1-yard loss.
“That play just didn’t work for us,” said Greene, who nodded his head as the question made its way out. “They stopped it up pretty good.”
That was a minus-1 and a field goal. That was Iowa’s day.
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(Jonathan D. Woods/The Gazette)
Iowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi walks off the field after the Hawkeyes’ 27-24 loss to Illinois on Saturday at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, Ill.