Head coach P.J. Fleck notched his first Big Ten win at Minnesota with a 24-17 Golden Gophers victory over the Illinois Fighting Illini on Homecoming weekend. The Gophers have now won six of their last seven games against the Illini. It was certainly a much-needed victory for Fleck and Minnesota. Let’s break down what we saw and look ahead to Hate Week while we’re at it.
What is your Tweet-length (140 characters or less) summary of the Gophers’ 24-17 win over Illinois?
GoAUpher: Haiku response, as per tradition:
Illinois is bad
Beating them makes me happy
Who hates Iowa
gopherguy05: Missed opportunities made this a lot closer than it needed to be, but a W is a W.
IowaGopher: That was much more difficult than it needed to be.
Ustreet: Never in doubt.
dvits14: Trust the process.
To borrow a Fleck-ism, who is your pick for “Nekton of the Week” from the game?
GoAUpher: Kobe McCrary for offense, Carter Coughlin for defense.
gopherguy05: Lots of good choices but it has to be Kobe McCrary. He was a total “dude” out there Saturday.
IowaGopher: Kobe McCrary. Talk about an unsung hero. When the Gopher offense has been without Rodney Smith or Shannon Brooks, McCary has stepped in and played like a starter. He rushed for 153 rushing yards on 24 carries, with one touchdown, against the Fighting Illini.
Ustreet: Jonathan Celestin for the reasons I gave on Great Takes Less Filling.
dvits14: Thomas Barber was a tackling machine out there and is among the Big Ten leaders in tackles for the season.
That Demry Croft performance was... something. How would you grade the first start of his Gopher career?
gopherguy05: D. He helped the running game improve some, but when he went back to pass, I cringed every time. That’s not good.
IowaGopher: D+. How about that first drive? What a tease. I anticipated a step back from his fourth quarter performance against Michigan State, but certainly did not expect what we saw. Hopefully this is rock bottom for Croft. Nowhere to go but up.
dvits14: D-. The only thing keeping it from being an F is he secured the most important stat of all: The win. He’ll learn from this experience though.
The Gopher offensive line paved the way for nearly 300 rushing yards on Saturday. Is that more because of Minnesota or more because of Illinois? Or a bit of both?
GoAUpher: A bit of both, but probably more due to Illinois being Illinois than anything. That said, there’s something to be said for having success (easier to learn from what you did right when you, ya know, actually did things right and put it on film).
gopherguy05: I would love to say it was because the line all of a sudden figured it out, but I don’t actually think that. Illinois is just that small and that weak up front. But please prove me wrong in Iowa City, boys.
IowaGopher: I didn’t get to see much of the game due to wedding obligations — a friend’s, not my own — but sight unseen, the cynical Gopher fan in me suspects it was more Illinois than Minnesota, especially with how much the Fighting Illini have let opposing rushing attacks run wild this season.
Ustreet: Illinois is very bad and undersized. The Gophers changed up the blocking scheme a bit, which exploited that fact.
dvits14: Mixture of both. Illinois hasn’t been good vs the run this season but neither had Maryland and Purdue. The offensive line was finally able to get a good push, allowing for McCrary and Smith to have a big day.
We haven’t talked much about a secondary that has been solid in spite of injuries. Who has been the most valuable defensive back since Antoine Winfield, Jr. went down?
GoAUpher: Duke McGhee is the most valuable overall, but Kunle Ayinde was a beast this week and I really hope it keeps up.
gopherguy05: While Kunle Ayinde has stepped up more than I could have ever hoped, that secondary is night and day when Duke McGhee is playing. He's the glue that keeps it all together.
IowaGopher: To me, the most valuable defensive back has been Kunle Ayinde. He has had his share of struggles over the years, and wasn’t expected to be much more than a bench player this season, but he has performed admirably while filling in at both safety and cornerback. He was even second on the team in tackles against Illinois.
Ustreet: For versatility reasons, it would be Ayinde. In terms of most valuable, probably McGhee.
dvits14: Duke McGhee. Has been very solid despite the games he missed due to suspension. He’ll get a look in the NFL if he keeps playing at this level.
Who hates Iowa?
GoAUpher: I harbor extremely negative feelings to the University of Iowa and all who affiliate themselves with it.
gopherguy05: Floyd. They do sketchy things to him down there. Bring him back to his safe space.
IowaGopher: ME. GIVE ME THAT DAMN PIG.
Ustreet: All correct thinking people.
dvits14: WE HATE IOWA!