Hawkeyes Hurdle Illini, 24-7

Sept. 23, 2006

Box Score | Notes | Photo Gallery

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) -No one needed to remind Iowa that the stakes are about to jump, that No. 1 Ohio State visits next week and brings a national TV audience with it.

The 14th-ranked Hawkeyes warmed up Saturday by scoring three touchdowns late in the second quarter en route to a 24-7 victory over Illinois.

Drew Tate completed 17-of-27 passes for 190 yards to lead an offense that collected 344. He was intercepted near the goal line early in the second quarter by Kevin Mitchell, but the Hawkeyes grabbed control after that.

“The good news is, I don’t think we’ve hit stride yet, or played our best football – I hope we haven’t,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “We going to have to find a way to upgrade that quickly in the next seven days because we’re playing an outstanding (team). I can’t remember Ohio State ever having a bad team.”

Damian Sims scored on a 1-yard run with just under six minutes left in the half after a short punt gave Iowa (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten) possession at the Illinois 31. Albert Young added a 6-yard run three minutes later.

Tate then connected with Tony Moeaki for a 35-yard touchdown with 1:47 left in the half after Miguel Merrick intercepted Tim Brasic. And just like that, it was 21-0.

Next up are the Buckeyes, who beat No. 24 Penn State 28-6 on Saturday.

“Everybody knows it’s a big game,” Merrick said. “There’s going to be a lot of excitement. We can’t worry about that.”

Young had six catches for 40 yards to go with his team-high 57 yards rushing, and Dominique Douglas add five catches for 64 yards.

Illinois (1-3, 0-1) was unable to move the ball for three quarters and lost its 10th straight Big Ten game. The Illini finished with 315 yards, 149 coming during the fourth quarter.

Freshman Isiah Williams started at quarterback for Illinois and struggled, going 9-of-32 for 161 yards, three interceptions and one touchdown. It was a steep drop from the previous week, when he relieved Brasic and threw for 227 yards against Syracuse.

Brasic was 3-of-7 for 33 yards – all in the closing minutes of the second quarter. His first pass went right to Merrick at the Illinois 40, and he spent the second half on the sideline. Pierre Thomas led the Illini with 50 yards rushing.

“(Williams) will get better,” Illinois coach Ron Zook said. “He’ll continue to make improvements.”

Zook said he decided Friday to start Williams, although Williams told reporters he found out on Monday.

He had a rough practice Tuesday and seemed jittery early in the game, fumbling on the Illini’s second play from scrimmage. Illinois recovered and drove to the 29, where Jason Reda missed a 46-yard field goal.

“This rush of nerves fell over me,” Williams said. “I felt this pressure to just please everyone. It messed with my brain a little bit.”

Iowa threatened early in the second, driving to the Illinois 16. But after an 8-yard sack, Tate was intercepted near the goal line by Mitchell on third-and-15.

Illinois could not take advantage. A 12-yard punt by Kyle Yelton gave Iowa possession on the Illinois 31 and set up the game’s first touchdown.

The Hawkeyes pulled away from there and Ferentz his 53rd win at Iowa. That put him in sole possession of second place on the school’s all-time list, ahead of Forest Evashevski and behind Hayden Fry, who won 143 games.

Now, the focus shifts toward the Buckeyes.

“We still have a lot of practicing to do, a lot of work to do,” wide receiver Kennon Christian said. “It’s still kind of early in the season. Yes, it’s an important game, but we just started Big Ten conference play.”

The Hawkeyes rushed for 154 yards, with Sims and Shonn Greene contributing 55 and 54, respectively. Not a great day on the ground. But to Tate, there was little reason for concern. He credited Illinois for containing the running game.

And the Hawkeyes’ defense did its job.

The Illini were on their way to their second shutout of the season before Williams hit Jacob Willis for a 39-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter. It was one of few glitches for an Iowa team that can’t afford many next week.

“As an athlete and competitor, this is what you live for,” Merrick said. “This is why you play the games. Whenever you have the best, you want to step it up and have a good game.”