On homecoming, Minnesota defeated Illinois 40-17 to improve to 5-0 on the season. It was a slow start for the Minnesota Gophers, but on the legs of Rodney Smith the Gophers took a hold of this game and never looked back. Smith rushed for 211 yards against the Illinois defense with 1 touchdown, averaging 8.8 yards per carry. Shannon Brooks contributed 111 yards and a touchdown as well.
A slow start, particularly for Tanner Morgan, allowed Illinois to take an early 7-0 lead. But from that point on it was essentially total domination by the Golden Gophers. This is one of those games where the numbers are impressive. Minnesota outgained Illinois 487 to 248 in total yards. In fact at one point midway through the 4th quarter, Smith has more yards than the Illini offense.
The Gopher defense actually only gave up 3 points on the day accumulating 3 sacks and an interception.
So how did Illinois manage 17 points?
Well this is the where we talk about Morgan. After having a career day at Purdue last week, earning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week while completing 21 of 22 passes. This week the Gopher’s sophomore quarterback struggled to begin the game. He was not sharp, his receivers really didn’t help him out and on the team’s second possession he threw into a pack of Illini defenders. That pass was intercepted and returned for a touchdown, giving Illinois the game’s first points.
Minnesota got on track after that scoring the next 16 points. Antoine Winfield Jr. intercepted a pass, setting up a Michael Lantz field goal. Then it was Smith who did most of the work but it was a Tyler Johnson touchdown reception that he tipped to himself and a Shannon Brooks 21-yard run to give Minnesota a 16-10 halftime lead.
And the second half was all Minnesota. The Gopher defense gave up 5 rushing yards in the second half, 83 total and just 7 points. Which again, came from the Gopher offense on a strip-sack inside their own 10.
The Gopher ground game this afternoon was finally a dominating performance with the dynamic duo of Smith and Brooks combining for over 300 yards and looking impressive. And after the slow start, Morgan was solid. He started the game completing just 2 of his first 10 passes but finished going 7/7 and throwing for 3 touchdown passes.
A game that was well in hand throughout the second half, no sweating a final possession to come away with a 1-score game and this team moves to 5-0 on the season.
What this game showed was that this team is improving in a number of key areas. The offensive line is playing much better, especially in the rushing game. The running back core is healthy. A handful of defensive players are improving to become vital contributors. Guys Benjamin St.-Juste and Brealin Oliver who both made key plays today to compliment guys like Carter Coughlin, Winfield Jr. and Kamal Martin.
A great game for the Gophers who are 5-0 for the first time since 2004 and will be hosting Nebraska next Saturday for a nationally televised evening game.