While Greene has gotten much of the credit for that, Iowa has also gotten strong performances from its offensive line and consistent play from quarterback Ricky Stanzi, who has settled in as the starter.
All of a sudden, an offense that couldn’t get that extra score when it needed one during a three-game losing streak is third in the Big Ten at 29.8 points a game. The challenge going forward, Ferentz said, will be to maintain a balance between the running and passing game. That way, defenses can’t key solely on Greene.
“I think our passing game is improving,” Ferentz said. “If we’re playing offense well, it’s going to mean that we’re going to have the capability of doing both.”
Then there’s Iowa’s defense, which hasn’t let up since August. The Hawkeyes are fifth in the nation at just 11.5 points allowed per game and first in the Big Ten in red zone defense.
“The focus there is being consistent. Not losing sleep over the 6-yard gains, but being consistent and being smart,” Ferentz said.
The Illini (4-4, 2-3) present a unique challenge, having been up and down all season. Illinois is clearly not as strong as a year ago, when they reached the Rose Bowl, but the Illini have shown the ability to score in bunches.
Illinois has broken the 40-point barrier four times in eight games, scoring 45 on rebuilding Michigan and 55 on woeful Indiana. The Illini should also be geared up to face the Hawkeyes, both because of their recent woes against Iowa and the fact that their bowl-eligibility hopes might be on the line. They close the season against No. 13 Ohio State and at Northwestern.
So while many Iowa fans are getting fired up over the prospect of a strong finish, the Hawkeyes know they can’t afford to think of anyone but Illinois.
“If you look at the schedule, all the games are winnable. But at the same time, they’re all loseable,” linebacker A.J. Edds said. “If we get focused on worrying about all that stuff, we’ll look at ourselves in a couple of weeks and still have five, maybe six wins.”