I'm going to start at the end.
The hit on Brandon Peters in the final minutes of Saturday's game was bad in the moment because it was, seemingly pretty clearly, a foul -- a late hit at best, targeting at worst. The replays shown on TV seemed to show Iowa cornerback Geno Stone going out of his way to make contact with Peters, catching Peters' chin with his helmet.
That it wasn't called live is one thing, but to then review the play -- as Peters was being walked back to the Illini locker room -- and deem it to not be targeting is baffling. As Lovie Smith put it on Monday, "If that's not targeting, what is?"
Illinois would know. A quick search of the internet -- this is a scientific process here, folks -- for targeting penalties by team didn't yield any results, but Illini fans surely remember the number of times Stanley Green has been penalized in recent years. Lovie doesn't need a refresher on what targeting looks like.
The play is frustrating for a number of reasons. It's disappointing that justice won't be served for Stone; in fact, by reviewing it and declaring that there was no targeting there, the referees enabled Stone to continue playing that way. They affirmed to him and the college football world that hits like that are OK.
Of course, the hit also nixed whatever microscopic chance the Illini had of staging a comeback. That's very minor in the big scheme of things, but two weeks after we saw Peters and Josh Imatorbhebhe convert a fourth-and-16 in the midst of an epic comeback, it at least registers that the odds of such a comeback go way down with Matt Robinson pressed into action on fourth-and-nine.
But the most maddening result of the hit is the impact it could have on Saturday's rivalry game against Northwestern. A game we have a real chance -- an obligation? -- to win for the first time since 2014. A game that could get Illinois to seven wins for the first time since 2011, and seven regular season wins for the first time this decade.
And now, a game they may have to win without their starting quarterback.
That's one costly, extremely legal, definitely not harmful regular football play.
-Lovie has been tight-lipped on Peters' outlook, as is his style. Asked about Peters' health, he said, "We'll see how it goes the rest of the week." He later said, "Matt (Robinson) has played. Down 28 points against Michigan, and Matt brought us back almost to upset them. Isaiah is healthy and ready to go. We got some depth if someone else needs to go. Hopefully it doesn't come to that." Rod Smith said, "Should he have to go, I'd be comfortable with Matt Robinson. The critical part of that with Matt, Isaiah ... is how you learn from your mistakes. Hopefully, Matt's learned from his mistakes."
If nothing else, that makes it sound like Peters did have some residual effects of the hit. (I never heard it officially deemed a concussion, even if that's how it appeared.) We're not likely to know much more before Saturday morning.
-As Robert has noted on Twitter, one interesting development has been the preservation of Isaiah Williams' redshirt status, so much that he can play in both the Northwestern game and the bowl game without burning it. Given the comments above, and Peters' uncertain outlook, we may see One for the first time since the Michigan game.
-It was the focus of Robert's column so I won't dwell on it, but easily the most frustrating part of Saturday's game was being in position to win and not getting it done. It's certainly encouraging to have the ball and a chance to take the lead midway through the fourth quarter, but to have those opportunities and a.) give Iowa three points at the end of the first half, b.) throw an interception in the end zone to get nothing out of a promising drive to open the second half and c.) fumble on what could have been said go-ahead drive is ... frustrating.
I need a new word.
-If we've learned more about Rod Smith this year, it's that he seems to be a coordinator who thrives on momentum. After a disjointed and abbreviated first drive, the six-play, 75-yard drive that ended with a Donny Navarro touchdown was clinical.
Two things from that drive are worth noting. The first is that, Peters had two impactful runs in the course of the drive. There seems to be a direct correlation between Peters using his wheels and the offense having success.
The second this is smaller, but it was indicative of a larger gripe I had with the offense Saturday. On the first play of the drive, Reggie Corbin ripped off an 11-yard run. On the afternoon, Illinois ran for 192 yards and averaged 4.9 yards per carry, their highest YPC since the Nebraska game. And while they finished with 39 rushing attempts, a respectable number, but the dynamic duo of Dre Brown and Reggie Corbin only had 20 of those and some of those "rushes" by Peters and Robinson were sacks. Others were plays where Peters took off because the coverage was good. I'd have liked to see Smith call more designed runs, especially with the game as close as it was throughout, when it was clearly working all day long.
-I made note of this on Twitter, but quickly: Dele Harding not being AT LEAST a finalist for the Butkus Award for the nation's top linebacker feels wrong. I admittedly know nothing about the Wyoming linebacker who was one of the six finalists, but you'll have a hard time convincing me he deserves the recognition over Harding. The senior has been indispensible.
-It must continue to be noted that the spread means little when it comes to Illinois football this year -- I wasn't going to bet on the Illini and risk losing twice on Saturday, but Iowa -16 felt egregious (and it was) -- but it also must be noted that they opened at 8.5-point favorites for Saturday's game, even with Peters' status in flux.
In the spirit of this week, I'm thankful for a bowl.
I'm also hungry for a win Saturday.