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Iowa gets it together after halftime against Illinois

David Mercer
Associated Press

Champaign, Ill. — Up by two points at halftime Saturday at Illinois, Iowa felt like it should have been ahead by much, much more,

The 9-7 lead seemed to almost defy the Hawkeyes' 294 yards of offense and their four long drives down the field.

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."

And that's what the Hawkeyes did, rolling up 21 second-half points to put Illinois away, 30-14.

Running back Mark Weisman ran for 134 yards on 23 carries and the Hawkeyes (7-3, 4-2 Big Ten) rushed for a season-high 304 yards. Quarterback Jake Rudock added another 210 yards and two touchdowns through the air on 14-21 passing.

The Illini defense is accustomed to giving up big yards. It averages a Big Ten-worst 483.1 a game.

Iowa finished with 587, a healthy recovery from last week's 51-14 drubbing at Minnesota.

"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, Iowa had to scrounge for points against an Illinois team (4-6, 1-5) trying to erase the memory of its last game, too, a 55-14 loss at Ohio State.

"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."

The Hawkeyes took a 2-0 lead on a first-quarter safety and Illinois' defense stopped them three times on fourth down to keep the game close.

Iowa's offense Saturday was a steady diet of Weisman broken up only by the occasional big pass play from Rudock or backup C.J. Beathard, who entered the game in the fourth quarter.

Between them the Hawkeye quarterbacks had three completions of 39 yards or longer.

Midway through the third quarter, it all started to take 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.

That was all the Hawkeyes would need.

Coming off a bye week, Illinois' offense looked less than ready to play.

Illinois quarterback Wes Lunt played for the first time since breaking his left leg Oct. 4 against Purdue. Two of Illinois' starting linemen, left tackle Simon Cvijanovich and right guard Ted Karras, were out, too. Both were injured in the loss to Ohio State, and Karras is gone for the season.

Lunt finished a quiet 14-for-25 for 102 yards and one touchdown.

"We just got our quarterback back and two new linemen, so you know there's going to be some little mistakes early. But that kept happening," Illinois receiver Mike Dudek said.

Dudek caught six balls for 80 yards and scored both of Illinois' touchdowns.

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.

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.