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By JAMES ALLAN
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Sophomore Nate Stanley threw three touchdowns, senior Akrum Wadley rushed for 115 yards, and the University of Iowa had an interception returned for a touchdown in a 45-16 Homecoming victory over Illinois on Saturday afternoon in front of a season-high 69,874 fans inside Kinnick Stadium.
The Hawkeyes trailed 13-10 late in the second quarter following a 24-yard field goal from Chase McLaughlin. Iowa closed out the first half with a 13-play, 74-yard touchdown drive before outscoring the Illini 28-3 in the second half.
With the first half winding down, the Hawkeyes used some fake punt trickery to extend the go-ahead drive. On fourth-and-5 from midfield, sophomore Amani Hooker took a direct snap and rushed 18 yards to the Illinois 23. Iowa found the end zone five plays later when Stanley hit Wadley for a 2-yard touchdown pass, giving the Hawkeyes a 17-13 lead.
Following two three-and-outs to start the second half, Iowa’s defense gave the Hawkeyes a lift. With Illinois driving for a go-ahead score, Fighting Illini quarterback Jeff George, Jr., overshot tight end Louis Dorsey. Junior Brandon Snyder was the beneficiary, intercepting the pass at the 11 and returning it 89 yards for a touchdown to give Iowa a 24-13 lead.
Illinois answered with a 10-play, 53-yard drive, which resulted in a 40-yard McLaughlin field goal — the Illini’s only second-half points — to make the score 24-16. The Hawkeyes put the game away with fourth-quarter flurry, which resulted in three touchdowns.
Stanley connected with Matt VandeBerg for a 39-yard touchdown pass to complete a seven-play, 75-yard scoring drive and Wadley bounced a rush outside for an 18-yard touchdown to extend the lead to 38-16 with 8:49 to play.
Freshman Geno Stone intercepted George, Jr., at the Illinois 23 and returned it 19 yards to the 4 before junior Tyler Wiegers tossed his first career touchdown pass, hitting Ivory Kelly-Martin for a 3-yard touchdown pass to cap the scoring, giving Iowa a 45-16 lead.
Illinois out-gained Iowa, 446-441, in the contest, but the Hawkeye defense forced a season-high four turnovers.
Trailing 17-13, the Fighting Illini were driving for a go-ahead touchdown early in the third quarter. Illinois started the drive at its own 29 before needing just six plays to advance to the Hawkeye 22. On first-and-10, George, Jr., over shot his intended receiver along the Iowa sideline. Redshirt junior Brandon Snyder intercepted the pass at the 11 and followed his blocking entourage for an 89-yard interception return for a touchdown. The sixth-longest interception return in school history gave the Hawkeyes a two-possession advantage.
WHEN IT WAS OVER
Illinois answered Iowa’s defensive touchdown with a 10-play drive that resulted in a 40-yard field goal to cut the deficit to 24-16. The Hawkeyes followed with a seven-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that ended with VandeBerg’s 39-yard touchdown reception. Iowa poured it on, scoring two more fourth-quarter touchdowns to complete the rout for the ninth win in the last 10 meetings in the series.
Wadley had a productive afternoon, finishing with 115 yards on 23 attempts to notch his 12th career 100-yard game. The New Jersey native also had a two catches for 14 yards, including a 2-yard receiving touchdown. It was his third game this season with both a rushing and receiving score. He moved into 10th place on Iowa’s career rushing list with 2,246 yards.
Stanley completed 17-of-32 attempts for 247 yards and three touchdowns. It was his third game this season with three or more touchdown passes. The Wisconsin native did throw an interception on his 15th attempt, breaking a streak of 147 attempts without an interception.
In his first game of the season, Snyder assumed his starting safety position and produced. He had three tackles (two solo), two pass break-ups, and his fourth career interception. Snyder’s 89-yard interception return for the touchdown was the first of his career.
Senior linebackers Bo Bower and Josey Jewell tied for the team lead with 10 tackles apiece. It was Jewell’s third straight game with double-digit tackles and the 17th such game of his career.
HOW IT HAPPENED
- Illinois struck first on a 29-yard McLaughlin field goal on its second drive. The Hawkeyes took the lead on an 11-play, 75-yard drive that culminated with a Nick Easley 5-yard touchdown reception.
- Iowa freshman Matt Hankins recovered a Miguel Recinos onside kick on the ensuing kickoff after Illinois was flagged for a personal foul on the Easley touchdown. The Hawkeyes drove to the Illinois 14, but turned the ball over on downs after failing to execute a fourth-and-1.
- The Fighting Illini had a touchdown taken off the board early in the second quarter after being flagged for an ineligible receiver down field penalty. The flag proved costly as Hooker intercepted George, Jr., in the end zone on second-and-15. It was Hooker’s first career interception.
- Iowa capitalized off the turnover with an eight-play, 60-yard drive. Stanley hit Noah Fant for a big play — a 41-yarder into Illinois territory. The Hawkeyes ended up settling on a 37-yard Recinos field goal, pushing their lead to 10-3.
- Illinois’ rushing attack tied the game at 10. Running back Mike Epstein broke free for 58 yards on the second play of the drive and Bonner capped the six-play drive with a 2-yard touchdown run.
- Offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs started at right tackle. Wirfs is the fourth true freshman to start on the offensive line under Kirk Ferentz, and the first to start at tackle (James Daniels started two games at left guard in 2015, Bryan Bulaga started five games at left guard in 2007, Mike Jones seven games at left guard in 2003).
- Iowa has had at least one pix-six every year since 2009 following Snyder’s 89-yard interception return for a score.
- Senior wide receiver Matt VandeBerg had two receptions for 48 yards. He has at least one reception on 25 consecutive games played. He has 121 career receptions, 11th all-time.
- Junior wide receiver Nick Easley tied his career-high with seven receptions for 59 yards and a touchdown. He has led Iowa in receiving four times this season.
- Redshirt freshman tight end T.J. Hockenson caught two passes for 41 yards. He has 10 receptions this season (9 first downs and 1 touchdown).
- Freshman punter Ryan Gersonde made his Hawkeye debut, punting three times for113 yards (37.7). He is the 10th true freshman to play this season.
- Kirk Ferentz has 139 overall wins and 83 Big Ten wins as Iowa’s head coach. He is four wins from tying Hayden Fry as the Hawkeyes’ all-time winningest football coach.
- Iowa scored 21 points in the fourth quarter. Iowa has outscored its opponents 67-20 in the fourth quarter this season.
QUOTING IOWA HEAD COACH KIRK FERENTZ
“We’re thrilled to get the victory. It was a welcomed win for us and a decisive win for our football team. It was all of these, so it didn’t come easy, and we didn’t expect it to. Illinois came in prepared to play a good football game, and they really fought hard.
“I am proud of our guys. It was a real team effort, and right along those lines, we played a lot of good complementary football. The end of the first half, getting the spark and then in the second half when we needed a spark, Brandon Snyder gave us a big one there. Taking advantage of those big plays gave us a big boost today.”
“That is quite a story there. Not only the time that it took him to return, but the way he handled it. Needless to say, he rehabbed hard to push the needle a little bit that way, and then beyond the mental work that he was doing when he was out. A player that has experience and a player who has been through some ups and downs like he was a year ago has a real opportunity to take that time when he can’t practice and improve, and that’s what Brandon has been doing. I can’t say enough about the work that he has done when he has been away from the field and not able to be out there in the huddle.
“For him to get a pick six today and give us a spark like he did, that’s poetic justice.”
Click HERE for the complete Ferentz transcript.
The Hawkeyes are idle next Saturday; the team returns to the field Oct. 21 at Northwestern.