IOWA CITY, Ia. – The return of Wes Lunt couldn't have come at a worse time for the reeling Iowa defense.
Lunt is expected to be Illinois' starting quarterback Saturday against the Hawkeyes after missing three games with a broken fibula.
"What makes Wes so special is what he puts into being a quarterback," Illini coach Tim Beckman said. "He's in this office as much as (offensive coordinator) Bill Cubit. Even when he was hurt, he was still taking the quarterback tests."
That's good news for Illinois (4-5 overall, 1-4 in the Big Ten), which is clinging to hopes of becoming bowl-eligible.
It's less than optimal for Iowa (6-3, 3-2), which just gave up four touchdown passes to Minnesota's Mitch Leidner.
Leider typically does his best work on the run. Lunt is a 6-foot-5, 225-pound sophomore known for having a nifty touch.
"Now that Wes is back, you can just feel a different vibe," receiver Mike Dudek told reporters. "We all know what he's capable of doing."
The Hawkeyes are barely familiar with any of the Illini. They haven't met on a football field since 2008, and Lunt began his college career at Oklahoma State before transferring.
"I never got to see him at Oklahoma State," Hawkeye coach Kirk Ferentz said. "I didn't watch a lot of TV.
"But we see a guy who is a really good player. Good thrower. We knew that when he came out of high school. It's fair to say he's matured. He's playing his best football this year."
Lunt averaged 313.8 passing yards in five games this season, completing 66.5 percent of his attempts with 13 touchdowns and three interceptions.
"Talent-wise, I think he has a tremendously strong arm," Beckman said. "He's got great accuracy with his deep throws.
"He as a person demands respect on the football field."
The Iowa defense better be respectful of Lunt's abilities.
"I'm expecting (the Illini) to do anything that's hurt us over the season," linebacker Quinton Alston said. "Anything they've seen on film that hurt us, I think they're going to go back to that."