Wadley, Hawkeye gain ground on the run
IOWA CITY – Akrum Wadley found room to roam Saturday against Illinois.
After being part of a rushing attack which totaled 19 yards a week earlier at Michigan State, the senior running back topped 100 yards on the ground for the third time this season with a 115-yard performance against Illinois.
“I saw a lot of daylight,” Wadley said. “The guys up front did a good job of opening some holes and giving it room for it all to work.’’
The Hawkeyes averaged five yards per carry, gaining 191 yards against an Illinois run defense which had been surrendering a Big Ten-worst 179.5 yards per game.
“It was progress from where we were a week ago and that was the big thing,” offensive lineman Sean Welsh said. “We took a step forward and that is what we wanted to accomplish heading into the bye week.
Wadley found the end zone twice, scoring Iowa’s go-ahead touchdown on a two-yard reception with 8 seconds left in the first half before scoring on an 18-yard run in the fourth quarter.
His work allowed him to move past Shonn Greene and into the 10th spot on the Iowa career rushing list. Wadley has now gained 2,246 yards, 18 more than Greene totaled.
Streak stopped: Illinois’ Bennett Williams intercepted a Nate Stanley pass and returned it 20 yards with 6 minutes, 21 seconds remaining in the second quarter Saturday, ending a string of 147 pass attempts by Stanley without a pick.
“He’s done some good things and made some good throws,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “I know there is one he’d like to have back today. The ball just kind of got away from him, but he had the right idea on it.’’
The interception was the second of the season thrown by the Hawkeye sophomore and the first since his third attempt of the year in Iowa’s season-opening game against Wyoming.
Change of direction: True freshman Ryan Gersonde made his collegiate debut when he recorded a 38-yard punt when Iowa’s opening drive of the third quarter stalled.
He went on to average 37.3 yards on three attempts
The Hawkeyes lined up to punt just once in the first half, with Colten Rastetter in position when Amani Hooker successfully gained 18 yards on a carry on a fourth-and-five play which extended Iowa’s go-ahead touchdown drive.
Wirfs starts: Getting the start at right tackle, Tristan Wirfs became the first true freshman to start on the offensive line for Iowa since James Daniels started two games during the 2015 season.
The 6-foot-5, 315-pound native of Mount Vernon, Iowa, joins Daniels, Bryan Bulaga in 2007 and Mike Jones in 2003 as the only true freshmen to start on the offensive line for the Hawkeyes during Kirk Ferentz’s 19 seasons as the program’s head coach.
Sean Welsh moved inside to right guard and Keegan Render opened at left guard to accommodate the move as Iowa started its fourth different offensive line combination in six games. Redshirt freshman Alaric Jackson opened at left tackle and Daniels opened at center.
“In the second half, I felt like we made a little progress there,” Ferentz said. “We feel like at this point, it’s a good combination.’’
The shuffle also allowed Iowa to rest Boone Myers heading into the bye week. Myers, who had been starting at left guard, has been dealing with a high ankle sprain since the preseason.
Fresh face: Vederian Lowe became the third true freshman to start on the Illinois offensive line this season, opening at left tackle.
Lowe is the 12th true freshman to start for Illinois this season, four more than any other Football Bowl Subdivision program.
“They’re very large freshmen and they continue to grow. They’re young kids, all 18, but they’re getting great experience,” Illini guard Nick Allegretti said. “We’re going to continue to add that to the offensive line which is something every program needs.’’
Familiar territory: Nick Easley matched a career high with seven receptions for 59 yards and a touchdown, erasing an early 3-0 Illinois lead with a five-yard touchdown reception with 4:16 left in the opening quarter.
“The end zone is always a good place to be,” Easley said.
Practice points: Illinois coach Lovie Smith believed improvements on the practice field are beginning to show up in games for the Illini, particularly on the offensive line.
“We you do some things well at the end of the week, you have to look back at the practice,” Smith said. “We had good practices, changed up the routine a little and if you keep practicing hard from week to week, you are going to see some changes.’’
Big house: Saturday’s homecoming crowd of 69,894 was the largest of the season at Kinnick Stadium.
Clayborn honored: Atlanta Falcons defensive lineman Adrian Clayborn was Iowa’s honorary captain Saturday.
The two-time first-team all-Big Ten selection was the most valuable player in the 2010 Orange Bowl.
Tis the season: Representatives of the Citrus Bowl and New Era Pinstripe Bowl were in attendance Saturday at Kinnick Stadium.
The Citrus Bowl is played Jan. 1 in Orlando, while the Pinstripe Bowl is scheduled for Dec. 27 at Yankee Stadium in New York City. Yankee Stadium hosts its first football game this season on Nov. 4 when Rutgers plays Maryland there.
Bus trip: Illinois traveled to Iowa City by bus on Friday, but flew home following Saturday’s game.
The Hawkeyes followed the same plan when they traveled to Champaign last season.