Illinois run over in 30-14 loss to Iowa

Illinois’ Mike Dudek (18) reaches for a touchdown catch during the game against Iowa at Memorial Stadium, on Saturday, Nov. 15, 2014. The Illini lost 30-14.

By Sean Neumann

Illinois’ defense ran out of gas Saturday.

Iowa racked up 587 yards of total offense, pounding its way to a 30-14 win over Illinois.

Illinois’ defense was clutch when it needed to be early in the game. The Illini made a goal line stand on Iowa’s first drive and were able to stop all three of the Hawkeyes’ fourth down conversion attempts, but big plays crippled the defense.

Illinois allowed nine Iowa plays for 20-plus yards.

“It just slipped way out of our hands,” Illinois head coach Tim Beckman said.

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Iowa kept pounding the ball offensively, rushing for a season-high 304 yards.

Illinois took an early lead late in the first quarter on a 31-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Wes Lunt to receiver Mike Dudek. The 5-foot-11 freshman’s mid-pass adjustment allowed him to catch the ball over a 6-foot-2 Hawkeye defender while falling down — one of the most impressive individual Illini efforts of the season.

Dudek said it was surprising the team’s momentum didn’t carry over from his touchdown catch, with Iowa going on a 28-0 run before Illinois added a late touchdown to make it 30-14.

“We usually are a momentum team,” Dudek said. “When we get stuff going, it usually stays going. I felt like we hurt ourselves a lot. We’d be driving, driving, driving, and then: penalty.”

Illinois’ offensive drives were continuously stalled by penalties. The Illini were flagged eight times Saturday — five times while on offense.

Beckman was asked about the penalties after the game and his frustration was clear: “I don’t even want to go there.”

The offense was also forced to adjust with two starting offensive linemen out with injuries (Simon Cvijanovic and Ted Karras). With Lunt returning Saturday after missing five weeks with a fractured fibula, the jumbled offensive line posed more threat than the quarterback re-aggravating his injury. 

The quarterback ended the loss with 102 passing yards and just one touchdown.

“You can’t point the finger at just one guy,” Beckman said. “This is a team game and will always be a team game. He didn’t play up to what he’s played before. But we can’t just point the finger at Wes. Nobody is responsible for a loss — when we lose, it’s all of us that lose.”

The quarterback was forced to make quick screen passes or throw the ball away throughout the game, even resulting in a safety in the first quarter when he was flagged for intentional grounding in his own endzone.

“It’s really frustrating,” Lunt said. “The defense did a great job in the early on keeping us in it and did a good job. As an offense our job is to score and we didn’t do that.”

The Hawkeyes’ defensive line broke through the Illini offensive line and recorded seven tackles for loss.

“We were trying to put plays together and just kept stopping ourselves,”  Lunt said. “It’s really frustrating.”

Sean can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter