Iowa, Illinois renew series after 6-year layoff

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) Coach Kirk Ferentz wants to erase the memory of Iowa's 51-14 loss to Minnesota last weekend.

''We're done looking backward right now,'' Ferentz said. ''We're looking forward and see what we can do about this week.''

This week brings Iowa (6-3, 3-2 Big Ten) to Illinois, a team that wouldn't mind erasing its last game, either. The Illini (4-5, 1-4) are coming off a bye but experienced a similar 55-14 rout against Ohio State in their most recent game.

The Illinois team Iowa plays Saturday in Champaign will look a little different than the one that was down 34-0 by halftime in Columbus. Starting Illini quarterback Wes Lunt returns this week from a broken tibia in his left leg.

He suffered the injury against Purdue and sat out three games, plus a pair of off weeks. Without him, Illinois had to rely on its limited run game.

With him, Ferentz said, ''They're built to throw the football, and they've got good receivers.''

Illini coach Tim Beckman said Lunt's return gave his team a positive practice that he expects will carry over to the game.

''He was throwing the ball very well. And I think also our players, the wide receivers, got the sense that he was back out there on the football field,'' he said.

Some factors to watch as Iowa faces Illinois on Saturday for the first time since 2008:

AERIAL BATTLE: Lunt is averaging 313.8 passing yards a game, and despite the games he missed, the Illini are No. 2 in the Big Ten in passing at 267.7 yards.

The Hawkeyes are second in the conference in pass defense, giving up 180.1 yards.

But Minnesota hit the Hawkeyes hard on the ground for 291 yards. That number likely wasn't lost on Illinois offensive coordinator Bill Cubit, noting this week that the Illini will need to run the ball a little to keep Lunt healthy.

For his part, the redshirt sophomore quarterback said his leg is nearly healthy.

''It's healed enough to withstand hits - not completely healed, but enough to withstand it,'' Lunt said,

COSTLY TURNOVERS: Beckman sees at least one thing Iowa and Illinois had in common in their most recent losses - turnovers.

The Hawkeyes gave the ball away three times against Minnesota. Illinois had four turnovers against Ohio State.

''You can't turn the football over in big games like that and expect to be successful,'' he said.

PUNT GAME: Illinois has a clear edge on Iowa in the punt game.

Illini punter Justin DuVernois leads the Big Ten at 41.2 yards a kick, eighth in the country. The Hawkeyes are averaging 35.5 yards.

''These guys have a great punter, this guy is one of the best punters in the country,'' Ferentz said of DuVernois.

BY QUARTERS: Iowa has outscored its opponents 94-38 in the first quarter, an edge they've largely built during the last four games.

The Hawkeyes have outscored the opposition by a combined 73-21 in wins over Indiana and Northwestern and losses to Maryland and Minnesota.

Iowa scored just 21 total first-quarter points in its first five games.

HELLO, STRANGER: It's the 70th game between Iowa and Illinois, with the Illini boasting a 38-29-2 edge.

But the teams haven't played each other since the Illini won 27-24 six years ago.

''It's kind of weird,'' Ferentz said. ''But that's probably a reflection of this expansion era that we're living in, and college sports have changed in a lot of different ways. This is just one more illustration of it.''

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Follow David Mercer on Twitter: https://twitter.com/davidmercerap

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