Hawkeyes 'played Iowa football' in trouncing Illinois
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – It was a chilly Saturday in Memorial Stadium.
And yet, there was Iowa's football team, sweating the outcome until late in the third quarter of a 30-14 victory over Illinois.
"It really came down to those little details," Hawkeye quarterback Jake Rudock said. "We had some third downs we didn't get and we had some fourth downs we didn't convert.
"That always comes down to these small details that are really big."
The Hawkeyes stumbled and fumbled their way through much of the opening 30 minutes, but improved their record to 7-3 overall and 4-2 in the Big Ten.
So as it turns out, the road to a West Division title really does run through Iowa City, with Wisconsin and Nebraska visiting Kinnick Stadium the next two weeks.
"We're going to enjoy it tonight," coach Kirk Ferentz said of beating the Illinois. "We're all going to do that. … Hopefully, be smart, put our feet up, relax a little bit and enjoy it.
"Tomorrow, we'll turn the page and get on with Wisconsin."
The Illini (4-6, 1-5) were generally overmatched, but the Hawkeyes blew their chances of staging a quick rout.
They gained 294 yards before halftime — on their way to a season-best 587 — and ended up with just one touchdown at halftime.
"I think the guys realized we were doing some good things," Ferentz said. "But if you're not finishing drives, those yards aren't worth anything."
Rudock contributed to the sluggish start with two mishandled snaps, then recovered with two touchdown passes to tight end Ray Hamilton.
He also ran for a score, putting Iowa up 16 points early in the fourth quarter.
"You get in a groove," said Rudock, who was 14 of 21 passing for 210 yards. "We had grooves going in the first half, too.
"We kind of got down closer to their end zone and just weren't able to finish."
From an Iowa perspective, it was exasperating.
Everything was working, except the safety on whatever revolver the Hawkeyes were using to shoot themselves in the foot.
If not for a Jake Duzey-led drive (the junior tight end had two catches for 57 yards and kept the series alive when he recovered a fumble), Iowa may have been shut out.
Instead, Hamilton followed with a 1-yard grab of a Rudock pass to put Iowa ahead 9-7.
"I was proud of the way we made some stops, some goal-line stops," Illinois coach Tim Beckman said. "The kids were fighting and kept on trying to get better and better, each and every snap."
Iowa's problems began when Weisman ran the ball three times from inside Illinois' 5-yard line, on its first possession of the game, and failed to reach the end zone.
"We take pride as an offense in running the ball," Weisman said after rushing for a season-high 134 rushing yards. "Obviously, in the first half, we didn't finish.
"The second half, we definitely finished better."
More opportunities were squandered when receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley dropped a potential touchdown pass and linebacker Reggie Spearman failed to get his hands on a likely pick-six.
The Hawkeyes didn't score until Louis Trinca-Pasat was credit with a safety, after Illini quarterback Wes Lunt was flagged for intentional grounding from the end zone.
GAMEDAY GALLERY:Iowa at Illinois football
A nifty, twisting catch by Mike Dudek gave Illinois a 31-yard touchdown and a 7-2 lead.
"Wes checked it and threw a good ball," Dudek said. "I thought I was getting held a little bit, so I didn't look until the very end."
The first half ended with Hawkeye kicker Marshall Koehn doinking a 46-yard field-goal try off the right goal post.
The defense, however, never let Lunt get settled. He finished 14 of 25 for 102 yards.
"I think Kirk did a great job with the preparation of their football team," Beckman said. "They bounced back from a defeat and they played, I guess you would say, Iowa football."