CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – With quarterback Wes Lunt returning from a broken leg Saturday against Iowa, Illinois hoped its offense would again become the fast-moving threat it was in early in the season.
But Lunt's return was quiet and the Hawkeyes piled up 587 yards of offense to batter the Illini, 30-14.
Iowa scored 21 second-half points to turn what was a tight, 9-7 Hawkeye edge into a second-straight blowout loss for Illinois (4-6, 1-5 Big Ten).
"The most frustrating part of this game is that we were smacking each other for three quarters and then in the fourth it just fell apart at the end," Illinois coach Tim Beckman said. "Again, credit them for what they did but it was a game for three quarters there, we just didn't finish."
Lunt finished 14-for-25 for 102 yards and a touchdown, his lowest totals for completions, yards and completion percentage of the season. He played behind an offensive line with two new starters, and Illinois' offense committed five costly penalties and surrendered a safety when Lunt threw the ball away in his own end zone.
"We just got our quarterback back and new two linemen so you know there's going to be some little mistakes early," Illinois receiver Mike Dudek said. "But that kept happening, we've got to get those fixed or it's going to be a tough game next weekend too."
The freshman receiver was a rare bright spot for the Illini, finishing with six catches for 80 yards and both Illinois touchdowns.
The Hawkeyes' two-point halftime lead seemed to almost defy the 294 yards of offense and four long drives down the field they had by halftime.
But in the locker room, Hawkeye coach Kirk Ferentz said he didn't deliver a great, inspirational speech or draw up a game-changing adjustment.
"There was no drama, really," Ferentz said. "At some point you've got to dig in and do something. You've got to finish drives."
Running back Mark Weisman ran for 134 yards on 23 carries and the Hawkeyes (7-3, 4-2) rushed for a season-high 304 yards. Quarterback Jake Rudock added another 210 yards and two touchdowns through the air on 14-21 passing.
"Seeing that 300 number come up there for rushing yards is pretty cool," Weisman said. "The offensive line, tight ends, fullbacks, receivers blocking downfield, it was awesome out there."
Early on, the Hawkeyes had to scrape to get a 2-0 lead on Lunt's safety. Illinois' defense gave up big yards but stopped the Hawkeyes three times on fourth-down plays to keep the game close.
But the steady diet of Weisman and occasional big pass plays from Rudock eventually took its toll.
Rudock capped an 11-play, 71-yard drive with a short toss to tight end Ray Hamilton, who bulled into the end zone through two defenders for a 6-yard touchdown and a 16-7 lead.
Then, with 13:41 left in the game, Rudock hammered Illinois himself, rolling to his left and taking the ball in for a 6-yard touchdown and a 23-7 lead.
Coming off a bye week, Illinois' offense looked less than ready to play.
Lunt played for the first time since breaking his leg Oct. 4 against Purdue. Left tackle Simon Cvijanovich and right guard Ted Karras were both out. They were injured in the loss to Ohio State, and Karras is gone for the season.
Illinois entered the game knowing it had three shots to get the two wins it needs to get to six, win bowl eligibility and ease pressure on Beckman. The loss means the Illini would need to beat Penn State at home next Saturday and Northwestern on the road to get there.
The win keeps Iowa within reach of the two teams ahead of it in the Big Ten West standings, Wisconsin and Nebraska. The Hawkeyes close the season with home games against both, starting next Saturday with the Badgers.