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Minnesota Football: Gophers get first win of the season, 41-14, over Illinois

Finally, this is what we were expecting.

NCAA Football: Minnesota at Illinois Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

On a beautiful November Saturday, the Gophers made it worth your while to watch this game, defeating Illinois 41-14. A methodical and balanced win for Minnesota, looking like the team most fans expected in this 2020 season.

Often times a game will take on a persona. The back and forth or momentum swings can define the game. Sometimes a game is a blowout where one team has everything going their way. Today was frankly, kind of boring. It was the Gophers controlling the game throughout, but never really feeling like they were dominating. After the first couple Gopher touchdowns, you never felt as though Illinois was in it, but also they were never far from being out of it. Just methodical and a consistent Gopher performance for 4 quarters.

It was a slow start with the Gophers punting on their first drive and Mo Ibrahim fumbling on their second. But then four consecutive touchdown drives opened up an initial 21-0 lead that was 28-7 at the half. A balanced 175 yards rushing and 165 through the air through 2 quarters kept Illinois off balance throughout. A couple big plays but the first half was really just consistently staying ahead of the chains and moving the ball to the end zone.

Not to be ignored was the Gopher defense. The Gopher defense that has given up nearly 100 points through the first two games was much more effective this afternoon in Champaign. This unit made an early 3-and-out and forced punts on the first four drives. Really this group gave up 141 yards in the first half, 63 of which came on one play.

But it takes 4 quarters to win and nothing has been very certain or reliable with this 2020 Gopher squad. The third quarter was another zero put up by the defense and yet another touchdown for Ibrahim who finished the game with four.

A fun win for Minnesota that was very much needed. Tanner Morgan was solid, throwing for 216 yards and just 1 touchdown. It was a resurgence of Rashod Bateman who had 10 catches for 139 yards and 1 touchdown. But once again it was Ibrahim who was the dominant offensive player. Ibrahim finished his day rushing for 224 yards and 4 touchdowns...again. Ibrahim continues to play with great vision and balance, racking up 571 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns in just three games. Incredible.

Defensively we are continuing to see Boye Mafe get better and produce on the field. Mafe finished with 6 tackles, a forced fumble and 2 sacks. But most impressive was the pass defense allowing only 106 yards through the air. Was the Illini quarterback particularly good? No, and that was certainly a factor. But considering how poorly this defense played in the first two weeks of the season, this was a welcomed reprieve.

The Gopher defense was last in the Big Ten in points allowed and yards allowed. This unit was giving up 578 yards per game. Today, giving up just 287 total yards to Illinois was a dramatic turnaround. There a number of new faces, needing to get better. Today was a step in the right direction.

Up next the Gophers host Iowa on Friday night. An ugly start to the season can get further in our rear view with a win over the Hawkeyes. It is a prime time game on FS1 with Floyd of Rosedale on the line.