Nov 1, 2003
IOWA CITY, IA. -- In the words of left tackle Robert Gallery, things are "rolling better" for the 13th-ranked Iowa Hawkeyes.
In a predictable 41-10 victory over unrated Illinois inside a sold-out Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Iowa produced its best offensive attack since obliterating Buffalo two months ago, while the defense held its seventh opponent to under 75 rushing yards.
The win also carried with it mile markers for coach Kirk Ferentz, who moves above .500 for the first time at Iowa, and Fred Russell, who picked up 94 yards on 23 carries to cross over the 1,000-yard season mark for a second year -- the third Hawkeye to reach that statistic.
In addition to the records and statistics, long-injured players Jermelle Lewis, Maurice Brown and Ed Hinkel were able to make solid contributions, which gave a sign that the Hawkeyes are moving past injuries and getting back into a groove unseen since September.
"It's nice to see some of the guys who have been out for a prolonged period of time get a little more active," said Ferentz. "For Mo Brown to get out there and play was good for us. It looks like Jermelle is starting to get the rust off too. Those are some positives from that standpoint, and I'm hopeful we might have a chance to get Jared (Clauss) and Grant (Steen) back next week."
The recoveries couldn't have happened at a better time for Iowa (7-2 overall, 3-2 Big Ten Conference) as it faces No. 18 Purdue next week at West Lafayette and start what could be the toughest stretch of its season.
"The Big Ten is tough -- anybody can beat anybody, so you can't go into any game thinking it is going to be an easy game," said Gallery. "We go into every game thinking the same way. The next couple of weeks are going to be tough."
But against Illinois, it was all quarterback Nathan Chandler and the Hawkeye offense, which was able to score on its first series, not done since Iowa State two months ago.
Iowa won the toss and started on offense for the 49th time in its last 51 games, and strung together an 18-play, 77-yard drive that took an unbelievable 9:06 off the clock in the first quarter. The drive culminated in a 1-yard touchdown pass from Chandler to Tony Jackson, for the junior's first career touchdown reception.
"It was long. It took forever. It was great to be able to stay out there. Everybody wanted to start fast so bad that they were giving it all they got."
Quarterback Nathan Chandler
But more amazing than the duration of the drive was the fact that Iowa crossed not just 77 yards but 98 in all, due to three penalties by the Hawkeyes and two by the Illini.
"It was long. It took forever," surmised Chandler, who went 14-of-23 for 243 yards on the day. "It was great to be able to stay out there. Everybody wanted to start fast so bad that they were giving it all they got."
It's no surprise that Iowa wanted to start early. Since playing Arizona State on Sept. 20, the Hawks have started five straight games with a deficit.
"We always want to start fast and score on that first drive," said Gallery, who led the offensive line with huge hole-opening blocks throughout the game. "That's our goal every week and it just happened to work out for us this week."
A lot worked out for the team that managed 505 yards of total offense over 75 plays.
Russell had two touchdown runs of two yards and 14 yards respectively, award-winning place kicker Nate Kaeding had two field goals and was perfect on extra point kicks, and Matt Melloy, who made his first scoring reception last week, caught a beautiful 13-yard pass from freshman Drew Tate for a touchdown with three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
Even the defense got in on the scoring.
After Illinois quarterback Dustin Ward was sacked by Matt Roth and fumbled on his own 12-yard line, Bob Sanders recovered the loose ball, juggled it twice and ran three yards for his first career touchdown with 5:56 on the clock in the third quarter.
"It's exciting just being in the right position at the right time and being able to go out and make a play," said Sanders, who finished at three tackles for the game. "I've had a lot of chances since I've been here, and I finally got my chance today and I enjoyed it."
"It's exciting just being in the right position at the right time and being able to go out and make a play. I've had a lot of chances since I've been here, and I finally got my chance today and I enjoyed it."
Strong Safety Bob Sanders on his touchdown
But at least one of the same problems that have afflicted the Hawkeyes remained.
Iowa had ten penalties for 88 yards, which moves its season totals to 61 miscues for 524 yards, averaging 58.2 yards per game compared to 465 total and 51.7 yards per game by opponents.
"We just can't do those things -- they're going to get called," said Gallery. "We were lucky enough to overcome that today, but against any team you're going to hurt yourself if you keep doing that."
"Obviously, the penalty situation is something we need to do a better job on," said Ferentz. "It's been kind of nagging at us the last couple of weeks and today. It's not good at all."
But that issue will wait until practices in the upcoming week.
Right now, the Hawkeyes get to savor a snap of a two-game losing streak against the Illini and a winning record in the Big Ten for the first time this year.
Barry Pump, hawkeyesports.com