Wojo: Wolverines’ rebound is real, but full validation requires a Big Ten title

Saturday's Big Ten: Jones’ kick return lifts No. 18 Iowa past Illinois 33-23

John Bohnenkamp
Associated Press

Iowa City, Iowa — Charlie Jones ran the length of the field, and then kept running.

Jones had a 100-yard kickoff return for No. 18 Iowa’s first touchdown and the Hawkeyes went on to beat Illinois 33-23 on Saturday.

Iowa (9-2, 6-2 Big Ten) was trailing 10-0 in the first quarter when Jones took the kick near the right corner of the end zone and ran through a hole on the left side for the score.

Iowa linebacker Jack Campbell (31) runs from Illinois' Julian Pearl (54), Isaiah Williams (1), Chase Brown (2) and Daniel Barker (87) while returning an interception for a touchdown.

“I knew I had a great block to the left, so I just cut inside,” Jones said. “Then I saw guys blocking downfield. So it was just me and some grass. Guys were just working along the way.”

But after Jones’ scored, he ran to the grandstands at the back of the end zone.

“Yeah, I was too excited,” Jones said, smiling. “I didn’t want to stop.”

Jones said it was a designed return the Hawkeyes had been working on the past week.

“It was great blocking, just like we drew it up, just like we saw on film,” Jones said.

“Thank goodness we practiced that,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “When you get a play like that, boy, it helps.”

It helped the Hawkeyes stay in the Big Ten West heading into the final weekend of the season.

Iowa is tied with Wisconsin at the top of the standings, but the Badgers hold the tiebreaker because of the 27-7 win over the Hawkeyes on October 30.

The Hawkeyes were scoreboard watching after the game, keeping track of Wisconsin’s game against Nebraska. The Badgers won 35-28.

Iowa plays at Nebraska next Friday, while Wisconsin plays at Minnesota on Saturday.

“We know what’s going on,” running back Tyler Goodson said. “We want to play in the Big Ten championship game. … From now on, our focus is going to Nebraska and getting a win.”

Iowa wide receiver Arland Bruce IV had a 2-yard run for a touchdown and Caleb Shudak kicked four field goals, including a 51-yarder in the second quarter. Linebacker Jack Campbell’s 32-yard interception return for a touchdown with 1:36 to play closed the Hawkeyes’ scoring.

Iowa was outgained 312-255, but the Hawkeyes had enough offense for the win.

“The real common bond there is we find a way to win,” Ferentz said. “It’s still what the game’s about. You talk about style points, and that’s important at some point maybe. But to me, it’s about trying to be successful, whatever the given situations are.”

Illinois’ Brandon Peters threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to tight end Luke Ford to end a 12-play, 75-yard drive that took 6:23 to start the game. But the Illini (4-7, 3-5) had just 9 yards on 10 plays in their next three possessions.

James McCourt had three field goals for the Illini.

Tyler Goodson ran for 132 yards for the Hawkeyes, his third 100-yard game of the season. Quarterback Alex Padilla, making his second start, was just 6 of 17 for 83 yards.

“We grind it out,” Padilla said. “Just playing complimentary football. We know it’s going to be a fist fight every time we go out.”

Peters, who threw a 16-yard touchdown pass to Isaiah Williams in the closing seconds, was 16 of 36 for 248 yards. Illinois’ Chase Brown, who was averaging 106.4 rushing yards per game, was held to 42 yards on 13 carries.

“We kind of saw them as a running team, and we wanted to shut that down and make them one-dimensional,” said Iowa safety Dane Belton, who had his Big Ten-leading fifth interception.

Iowa extended its winning streak against the Illini to eight games. The Hawkeyes have won 13 of the last 14 in the series.

Illinois was playing without head coach Bret Bielema, who tested positive for COVID-19 earlier in the week.

“I’m disappointed, because I wanted to give him the game ball,” assistant head coach George McDonald said. “There’s a lot of people in there who are hurting because we wanted to get this done. We had chances to get it done, and we didn’t. So we’ve got to get better.”

More Saturday results

(At) No. 19 Wisconsin 35, Nebraska 28: Braelon Allen ran for 228 yards and three touchdowns – including a tiebreaking 53-yarder with 3:50 remaining – to help Wisconsin outlast Nebraska for its seventh consecutive victory.

Nebraska drove to Wisconsin’s 11 in the final minute but ended up losing the ball on downs at the 21. Faion Hicks broke up Adrian Martinez’s fourth-down pass to Zavier Betts with four seconds left.

The Badgers (8-3, 6-2 Big Ten, No. 15 College Football Playoffs) handed Nebraska (3-8, 1-7) its fifth straight loss and moved a step closer to playing for a conference title.

Wisconsin will clinch its fourth Big Ten championship game appearance in the last six years if it wins its regular-season finale at Minnesota.

(At) Penn State 28, Rutgers 0: Christian Veilleux stepped in for an injured Sean Clifford and tossed three touchdown passes to lead Penn State.

The freshman quarterback was thrust into action when an unspecified injury forced Clifford out of the game midway through the first quarter.

Penn State quarterback Christian Veilleux (9) fights off a tackle attempt by Rutgers linebacker Mohamed Toure (58) during the first half of Saturday's college football game in State College, Pa.

Jahan Dotson, Parker Washington and Malick Meiga caught touchdown passes and Keyvone Lee ran for a score for the Nittany Lions (7-4, 4-4 Big Ten) who snapped a two-game skid at Beaver Stadium.

Although he had never played a collegiate down and took a while to find his rhythm, Veilleux settled in and the rest of Penn State’s offense did enough in the second half to beat the Scarlet Knights (5-6, 2-6) for the 15th straight time.

Veilleux completed 15 of 24 passes for 235 yards. His eight-yard pass to Dotson with 1:03 to play in the second quarter broke a scoreless tie and was the lone highlight to that point in a game that had been without any.

Both offenses traded punts and just-missed turnovers in the first quarter. They combined for just 53 yards on 31 plays in the opening 15 minutes before Penn State managed the 10-play drive capped by Dotson’s 10th touchdown catch of the year.

Penn State was much more efficient in the second half where Veilleux ended a pair of quick third-quarter drives with big plays.

He dropped a 17-yard pass in to Washington in the end zone with 3:32 to play in the third, then hit an uncovered Meiga over the middle for a 67-yard score two minutes later.

Penn State’s defense did the rest.

Rutgers was held to 165 yards, forced to punt 10 times, converted just 4 of 15 third downs and crossed midfield just once – in the opening minute of the fourth quarter.

►Purdue 32, Northwestern 14 at Wrigley Field: Aidan O’Connell threw three touchdown passes to Milton Wright on Saturday to lead Purdue to a 32-14 victory over Northwestern at Wrigley Field.

O’Connell was 29 for 39 for 423 yards and Wright had 213 yards on eight catches – both career highs – to help the Boilermakers (7-4, 5-3 Big Ten) erase memories of last weekend’s 59-31 drubbing at Ohio State.

Evan Hull had 96 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries as the Wildcats (3-8, 1-7) dropped their fifth straight.

The Boilermakers never trailed and scored touchdowns on their first two possessions of the second half to give themselves some breathing room. Wright, who’d never caught more than one touchdown before Saturday, had scoring catches of 17 and 45 yards in the third quarter to cap his best game.

Up 6-0 midway through the second quarter, O’Connell found a streaking Wright down the sideline for a 53-yard touchdown pass. Northwestern answered with a long touchdown drive in the final 1:45 to go to intermission down 13-7.

Mitchell Fineran kicked four field goals for the Boilermakers, who ended their road season 4-2. The two losses were at Notre Dame and Ohio State.

Andrew Marty was 10 for 14 for 93 yards and a touchdown for Northwestern, which played its home finale at the famed home of the Chicago Cubs.

Minnesota 35, (at) Indiana 14: Ky Thomas ran for 105 yards and a career-high two scores, Tanner Morgan threw two touchdown passes and Minnesota scored 14 points the final 46 seconds of the first half to pull away.

Minnesota (7-4, 5-3 Big Ten) ended a two-game losing streak.

The Hoosiers (2-9, 0-7) have lost seven straight.