Iowa clinches Big Ten West with win vs. Illinois

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IOWA CITY, Iowa — Running back Kaleb Johnson’s 30-yard touchdown run with 4:43 left against Illinois on Saturday led Iowa to a 15-13 victory and clinched the program’s third Big Ten West title. Iowa will face the Michigan–Ohio State winner in Indianapolis on Dec. 2 in the Big Ten Championship Game.

Before the game-winning run, the No. 16 Hawkeyes (9-2, 6-2 Big Ten) benefitted from a 17-yard punt return, a third-down pass from quarterback Deacon Hill to Nico Ragaini and a defensive holding call to set up the biggest play of the season. At the 30-yard line, Iowa ran a counter and a key second-level block by tight end Addison Ostrenga allowed Johnson to blast up the middle before veering right and outracing Illini defenders to the end zone for the touchdown.

Illinois failed to convert on its next possession, handing the ball back to Iowa at the Illini 33. On third and 8, Johnson again blasted up the middle for 12 yards to seal the victory.

The Hawkeyes have advanced to the Big Ten title game in 2015 and 2021 along with this season.

How did Iowa win?

There were plenty of tense moments but the Hawkeyes never backed down. A questionable roughing the passer call led to an Illini field goal and a 13-9 deficit, but Iowa stayed in the fight.

The Hawkeyes collectively ran for 114 yards, and they are 7-0 in games in which they run for more than 100 yards this year. Deacon Hill was 19 of 29 passing for 167 yards. His preferred target was Kaleb Brown, who caught seven passes for 71 yards. Ostrenga had five catches for 46 yards.

The defense also was solid in holding Illinois to 65 rushing yards and only 5 of 15 in third-down conversions.

The Hawkeyes have won eight in a row against Illinois at Kinnick Stadium and last lost to the Illini at home in 1999.

How did Illinois stay close?

In a word, patience. Illinois (5-6, 3-5) weathered an early, emotional barrage from Iowa, starting with a safety on their third play from scrimmage to give the Hawkeyes a 2-0 lead. Illinois answered every Iowa score with one of its own, settled down offensively and took advantage of uncharacteristic Iowa penalties.

After giving up a 75-yard touchdown drive that lasted nearly eight minutes, Illinois put together a 75-yard drive of its own on the next possession with multiple chunk plays. The 1-yard touchdown plunge from Reggie Love was only the second allowed by Iowa’s defense.

What’s next?

Iowa travels to Nebraska for the annual Black Friday season finale. The Illini face Northwestern (6-5, 4-4) with the opportunity to secure a bowl berth.

(Photo: Jeffrey Becker / USA Today)

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