With its season on the line, the Illinois football team will have an opportunity to do something it has already done twice this season.
Beat a ranked opponent on the road.
Sitting at 4-6, the Illini need to win its final two games in order to secure bowl eligibility with a .500 record.
Can the Orange and Blue beat another ranked opponent on the road when traveling to Iowa City to take on the No. 18 Iowa Hawkeyes?
Let’s take a look at what the Illinois football team will be matched up against in Saturday’s contest.
A top 10 defense
The Fighting Illini offense will certainly be battle-tested Saturday, facing a Hawkeyes defense that ranks among the top 10 of all DI defenses by allowing just 16.3 points a game.
This unit is more than capable of forcing offenses to cough up the ball, ranking No. 4 in the nation with its 23 forced turnovers on the season.
The majority of these turnovers have come by way of interception, which the Hawkeyes lead the entire nation in with their 19 picks on the year, two of those being pick-sixes.
Iowa junior defensive back Dane Belton leads the team in this feat with his four picks on the season, ranking No. 6 among all DI defenders.
It’s the Hawkeyes’ front seven that has been especially menacing. Iowa is allowing the opposing offense to rush for just 107 yards per game, which ranks No. 15 in the country.
Junior linebacker Jack Campbell is the leader of this unit, leading the team with his 45 solo tackles. To top it off, Campbell has a forced fumble and a sack on the year as well.
A question mark under center
With the status of junior quarterback Spencer Petras – the team’s primary starter – in question, it is unknown who will be starting under center for Iowa on Saturday.
It has been reported that Petras has been practicing with the second string, while sophomore QB Alex Padilla has been practicing with the starters.
Padilla is coming off a solid performance where he threw for 206 yards and two touchdowns and was 11-of-24 passing in Iowa’s 27-22 win at Minnesota.
In the prior game, Padilla looked just okay. The sophomore completed 18-of-28 pass attempts for 172 yards in Iowa’s 17-12 win over Northwestern.
If the Orange and Blue front seven can put the pressure on Padilla – if he is the starter – I like the Illini’s chances to complete the trifecta in road victories vs. ranked opponents.
All of my predictions have been a little off thus far, and that’s putting it nicely. Forgive me if I happen to jinx it, but I think the Illini get it done.
With momentum on its side – coming off a big win at No. 20 Minnesota – and motivated to become bowl eligible in the new Bret Bielema era, Illinois will find a way to squeak out a win in Iowa City thanks to a stellar outing from its defense, and the offense does just enough.
Illinois defeats Iowa 17-13.