Freshman’s fumble kills Illinois’ rally in loss to Iowa
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BY LUKE MEREDITH
IOWA CITY — Illinois couldn’t replicate the fourth-quarter heroics that highlighted its surprising start. But in hanging tough Saturday on the road with No. 22 Iowa, the Fighting Illini showed why they might not fade away as many predicted.
Senior Jordan Canzeri ran for 256 yards on a school-record 43 carries — including 11 in a row on a crucial fourth-quarter drive — and the Hawkeyes held off the Illini 29-20 for its sixth consecutive victory.
C.J. Beathard had 200 yards passing and two touchdowns for Iowa (6-0, 2-0 Big Ten).
Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz came away impressed by the Illini (4-2, 1-1).
“They’re a much improved football team from a year ago,” Ferentz said of the Illini, who lost to Iowa 30-14 last season in Champaign. “What we played against last year in November … really didn’t play representative of the way they wanted to, and certainly not the way they’re playing now. They’ve made great improvement on both lines. Their -defense is much, much better.”
Canzeri’s 75-yard touchdown run put Iowa ahead 23-13 late in the third quarter.
Geronimo Allison pulled Illinois back within three on a 53-yard TD reception, but freshman Ke’Shawn Vaughn’s fumble with 3:09 left doomed the Illini. Wes Lunt threw for 317 yards and a touchdown, and Allison had 148 yards receiving.
“I loved the way we competed,” interim Illini coach Bill Cubit said. “Sometimes we’re going to have a little bit of stage fright at times because it’s a big stage. But you look at Wes and Geronimo and what they did … defensively, I saw a lot of good things from those guys.”
Canzeri gave the reeling Hawkeyes some breathing room with the longest run of his career. Canzeri cut back, hit a hole and went essentially untouched to put Iowa back in front 23-13.
Allison, who was picked off on a double-reverse pass earlier in the second half, took it away with his long TD grab with 10:13 left.
But Iowa responded by handing off to Canzeri time after time, setting up Marshall Koehn’s 34-yard field goal and a 26-20 lead with 3:20 left.
“It was just the adrenaline going,” Canzeri said. “I knew I needed to do something for my team, just needed to fight, continue to push and make those plays.”
Illinois had won twice in 2015 with fourth-quarter comebacks.
But Vaughn’s fumble, which came on the first play after Koehn’s field goal, led to another field goal by Koehn, this time from 40 yards with 2:11 left, to make it 29-20.
Vaughn, in for the injured Josh Ferguson, rushed for 67 yards on 19 carries.
“The kid is a good player,” Cubit said. “They don’t fumble on purpose or miss kicks on purpose. You just got to keep this thing -positive. If you get down on the kid at that point there, you end up losing them.”
The Hawkeyes could have made it easier on themselves if they hadn’t come away with just three points on two of their red-zone trips in the first half.
Still, Iowa led 16-7 at the break thanks in part to a 17-yard TD catch from Canzeri.
Illinois will next have a bye week before hosting Wisconsin.
“The coaches don’t get a break, but the players do,” Cubit said. “We can evaluate and see where we’re at with our control offensively and defensively.”