Iowa ready for Lunt-led Illinois


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Tim Beckman has an unwavering faith in his players, meaning that it should come as no surprise that, earlier this week, he said Wes Lunt will start at quarterback on Saturday against Iowa.

“He was back last week,” Beckman said. “I’m a firm believer that an injury really can’t take your starting position. You deserved it. The injury was a misfortunate incident that happened.

“If [Lunt] is healthy, which he is, he’ll be our starting quarterback.”

This could potentially mean bad news for the Hawkeyes, who are coming off their worst game of the season, a 51-14 loss to Minnesota last week. Of the Gopher’s 7 touchdowns, 4 came by way of the pass.

Thing is, Lunt is much, much better than Minnesota quarterback Mitch Leidner.

“We see a guy who is a really good player,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “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 missed the last three games — and four of the last five — with a leg injury. In the five games he’s played this year, the sophomore has completed 66 percent of his passes, averaged nearly 314 passing yards per game, and thrown 13 touchdowns with merely 3 interceptions.

His talent has reflected well on Illinois as a whole. With Lunt behind center, the Fighting Illini are 3-2, without him, just 1-3.

“If I ask him questions in the quarterback room, he knows everything,” Illinois offensive coordinator Bill Cubit said this week. “His tests are 100 percent. Never makes a mistake.”

Lunt will be tasked with trying to exploit Iowa’s secondary — which, despite surrendering four scores a week ago, ranks among the Big Ten’s best.

The Hawkeyes allow, on average, just 180.1 passing yards per game, and they have picked off as many passes (10) as touchdowns they’ve permitted.

Of course, those numbers should come with a huge warning sign, as Iowa’s opponents haven’t had to pass much lately.

Over the last four games, Iowa’s rushing defense has yielded more than 230 yards per game, which includes the ugly totals of 291 and 316 to Minnesota and Indiana, respectively.

Even more, in those four games, the Hawkeyes’ opponents have scored 10 touchdowns. In the season’s first five games, Iowa only allowed 2 rushing touchdowns.

To put it bluntly, Iowa’s defense is in a lull.

“We need to figure it out, because I know Illinois is going to use whatever it is that we got beat on,” defensive tackle Carl Davis said. “We just made some mistakes. That’s all.

Iowa’s defense will need to bring its best against Lunt and Illinois, or risk entering its final two games of the regular season — which are the team’s two toughest games all season, on paper — on a losing streak.

“I’m expecting [Illinois] to do anything that’s hurt us over the course of the season,” middle linebacker Quinton Alston said. “Anything that’s hurt us in the past, I think they’re going to go back to that, because they have the talent to do that.”

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