CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- The Iowa Hawkeyes bowled over Illinois Saturday in pursuit of the roses.
Nick Bell carried 22 times for 168 yards and two touchdowns to power the No. 13 Hawkeyes to a 54-28 Big Ten victory over the No. 6 Fighting Illini, giving Iowa the inside track to the Rose Bowl.
'That was just unbelievable,' Iowa Coach Hayden Fry said. 'I never in my wildest dreams thought our offense could go against a great defensive team like Illinois ... and we just chopped them up.'
The 54 points were the most allowed by Illinois since a 69-13 loss to Michigan Nov. 1, 1986.
Bell, a bruising 255-pound senior, scored on runs of 1 and 26 yards, while fellow running back Tony Stewart rushed for another 101 yards on 22 carries and passed for a TD against the conference's top-ranked defense.
Iowa built a 28-0 lead early in the second quarter and never looked back. The Hawkeyes scored on their first five possessions, and everything they tried worked, including a halfback option for one touchdown and a fake field goal for another.
'If we play like this, there's not too many teams in the nation that can beat us,' Iowa quarterback Matt Rodgers said.
Iowa, 7-1 overall and 5-0 in conference, took over sole possession of first place in the Big Ten and gained the upper hand on the trail to Pasadena with three games remaining. The upset marked the third time this season the Hawkeyes won on the the road, earlier claiming victories at Michigan and Michigan State. The Hawkeyes were so confident of their chances here that they didn't even dance their trademark hokey-pokey when it was all over.
'That was a great win for us,' Fry said. 'I don't know if you people understand what this means to the State of Iowa and the University of Iowa, to win on national television.'
Illinois, 6-2 and 4-1, saw its six-game winning streak snapped. The Illini must try and rebound at Michigan next weekend, with their hopes for a Rose Bowl all but dashed. Representatives of nine bowls were on hand for the game.
'The Rose Bowl people went to see Hayden Fry. All the other guys came to see me,' Illinois Coach John Mackovic said.
'I've lost a lot worse than this,' he said. 'I don't know about these kids.'
Rodgers threw a pair of TD passes to Danan Hughes and finished by completing 11 of 16 for 188 yards. He also ran for a touchdown.
Hughes' second touchdown reception, a 17-yarder, capped Iowa's first possession of the second half and built the Hawkeyes advantage to 41-14. Jeff Skillett added a 29-yard field goal, and Iowa led 44-14 entering the final quarter.
Illinois' Jason Verduzco finished 32 of 51 for 358 yards and four touchdown passes. His third went for 9 yards to Shawn Wax 1:52 into the final quarter to make the score 44-21.
Iowa built its lead to 51-21 on Rodgers' 1-yard keeper with 10:44 remaining. Illinois countered that with another 9-yard TD pass from Verduzco to Wax, Wax's third score of the day. Skillett capped the scoring with a 22-yard field goal.
'Things like this happen every week,' Illinois fullback Howard Griffith said. 'Today it happened to be us. We have to bounce back from this massacre.'
Illini running back Wagner Lester turned the ball over on the game's second play from scrimmage, and Iowa made them pay quickly. Bell turned the right corner for a 43-yard gain on his team's first offensive play, and Rodgers hit Mike Saunders for a 5-yard TD three plays later for a 7- 0 lead.
Iowa made it 14-0 with 4:20 left in the opening quarter when Stewart faked a run and hit Hughes all alone in the corner of the end zone for a 3-yard score.
The embarrassment continued, as Bell scored on a 26-yard run around the right side with 2:01 remaining in the first quarter for a 21-0 lead. Linebacker Romero Brice had Bell in his grasp, but Bell broke loose and kept running.
'We didn't do a good job tackling,' Mackovic said. 'But Nick Bell had a large part to do with that.'
Bell made the score 28-0 with his 1-yard TD run 4:51 into the second quarter. He had 145 yards rushing in the first half, and Iowa finished with a total 335 net yards on the ground.
Illinois finally got on the board when Verduzco hooked up with Wax on a 20-yard TD pass midway through the second quarter, but the Hawkeyes answered that on their next possession. Iowa lined up for a short field- goal attempt, backup quarterback Jim Hartlieb faked the hold and tossed an easy 14-yard touchdown pass to Matt Whitaker to make the score 35-7.
The Illini cut their deficit to 35-14 just before the half on Verduzco's 2-yard TD pass to Lester.