IOWA CITY, Iowa – Danny Clark saw Tavian Banks on the ground and couldn't help himself. He wanted to be part of the tackle.
Late in the first half of Saturday's game with Iowa, the Illinois linebacker dove at the Hawkeyes' star running back. The only problem was the play had been whistled dead. Clark's extra contact brought a late-hit penalty against Illinois.
"It was a mental mistake," Clark said. "I tried to lunge out at him. I left my feet. It won't happen again."
The play led to Zach Bromert's 40-yard field goal and a 17-7 Iowa lead.
After his mistake, Clark was pulled from the game for the remainder of the half. Head coach Ron Turner and defensive coordinator Tim Kish chastised Clark.
"They just let me know that was nothing we needed," Clark said.
"That play by Danny Clark was just totally unacceptable," Turner said. "Those are the kind of things that you do when you don't have confidence.
Clark apologized to the rest of the Illinois defense.
"I let them know it won't happen again and that only good things will come out of me," Clark said. "That was unlike Danny Clark. Hopefully, they understand it was a mental error and it does happen. A mistake is a success if it's not repeated."
Clark returned to the game in the second half. He tried to forget the mental error.
"I got over it after that play was done," Clark said. "I'm taking each play one at a time."
Clark led the Illinois defense with two sacks. He forced a fumble in the fourth quarter that teammate Jeff Weisse recovered.
Clark's first sack came on Iowa's opening series of the game. The sophomore thought it was the start of something good.
"All week in practice, I've been looking forward to this game," Clark said. "I was looking forward to make plays. I wanted to meet all the guys back in the backfield."
A solid start
Tuscola's Fred Wakefield had a sack and four total tackles in his starting debut. The redshirt freshman lined up at defensive end in place of injured Ryan Murphy.
"You're going to be excited starting your first game," Wakefield said. "I felt like I did all right. Of course, I made some mistakes. I'm not going to come out in my first game and play a perfect game."
Wakefield wasn't too impressed with his first sack, which also happened to be the first tackle of his college career.
"It looked like the Red Sea parted," Wakefield said. "It felt like almost a gimme. I've got to have more than one sack a game if I want to help as much as I can."
Wakefield was part of a defensive end rotation that included Jeff Weisse, Karleton Thomas and Seth Tesdall. The Illini opened the season with Rameel Connor and Murphy as starters. But Connor is out for the season after knee surgery, and Murphy hurt his ankle against Washington State.
Though he is playing earlier than expected, Wakefield has gained Turner's attention.
"He's a good athlete," Turner said. "I think he's going to be a tremendous football player for us in the future."
Iowa running back Banks gained 191 yards on 25 carries and scored two touchdowns. He also gained a few fans.
"He's a great player," Turner said. "He can play at any level. He'll fit in great (in the National Football League)."
Banks was at his best on a 76-yard run in the first quarter. He went to the left side of the field, then sprinted toward the right sideline. Illinois' Trevor Starghill finally dragged him down at the 4.
"We had a lot of missed tackles," Illinois safety Steve Willis said. "We had a lot of plays where people lost contain. After that happens, it was like all mayhem broke loose.
"He's a sprinter playing running back, and he's trying to get outside. The big problem you have is you're trying to cut him off, and then he cuts back inside."
Until that play, the Illini had done a good job shutting down Banks.
"It's harsh," Wakefield said. "We come out there every day trying to work on stopping the big plays. We're grinding it out and beating them up, and all of a sudden we let these big plays happen."
Willis moved this week from strong safety to free safety. He replaced Ivan Benson in the starting lineup.
"It's not bad at all," Willis said. "Our safeties are interchangeable."
The Illini defense caught a break early in the third quarter when Iowa's Tim Dwight fumbled into the end zone. Illinois cornerback James Williams recovered.
Illinois linebacker Chris Hoffman caused the fumble. Because of a mix-up, Hoffman sprinted onto the field at the start of the play, putting him in perfect position to make the hit.
"We may try to get that in," Turner said. "Defensive motion."
The Illini wasted another 100-yard day by tailback Robert Holcombe. The UI's career rushing leader finished with 157 yards on 32 carries.
"I wouldn't trade Robert Holcombe for anybody in the country, any position," Turner said. "He's a winner. I feel bad for Robert that we're not winning."
Snap, crackle, pop
Illinois tried a new short snapper on field goals and extra points Saturday. Freshman Nathan Hodel replaced Corey Ryan, who didn't make the trip.
Hodel didn't appear to have any trouble on two snaps, with Neil Rackers hitting a field goal and extra point.
Just 386 to go
Turner met Iowa coach Hayden Fry on the field before the game. Saturday's game was the 401st for Fry as a head coach. Turner was working his 15th.