With under a minute to go, 85 yards in front of them and their backup quarterback coming into the game on 4th and 11, the Illini managed to score in 3 plays to beat Minnesota 26-27.
What appeared to be a tremendously opportunistic defense in the second half had set up Minnesota to get their third win of the season. But a colossal failure on 4th and 11 (and the next 2 plays) doomed the Gophers to their third consecutive loss to Illinois and they dropped to 3-3 in the Big Ten West.
For the second consecutive week, the Gophers took the opening kickoff and immediately turned the ball over, giving their opponent the ball in the red zone. Both times a Sean Tyler fumble was the culprit. On today’s opening kickoff, Tyler fumbled the return, which led to an Illini touchdown to open a very quick 7-0 lead. He was not seen from again.
Despite giving away the game’s opening possession and essentially spotting Illinois a touchdown lead, the Gopher offense was able to move the ball effectively and by halftime had a 14-17 lead. Athan Kaliakmanis had what was probably his best half of football to start today’s game. The sophomore was 9/11 passing for 130 and 2 touchdowns. The ground game struggled, but Kaliakmanis was great...in the first half.
The second half was dramatically different. The Gopher offense managed 69 total yards of offense, 31 of those came on one play. That play was a beautiful pass to Daniel Jackson immediately after Cody Lindenberg forced a huge fumble. But the rest of the second-half offense was really ugly.
Kaliakmanis was 2/11 passing, the offense was 0/7 on third down and they managed 2.4 yards per play. It was truly ugly.
The defense was very good...until the final three plays when the backup quarterback picked them apart for 85 yards on 3 plays. Typically when you force 3 turnovers and record 4 sacks in a half of football, you are doing something very right. But for whatever reason it all fell apart in the span of about 60 seconds.
Isaiah Williams was a major problem for the Gopher secondary. The junior receiver had 13 catches for 131 yards and two touchdowns, the latter one being the game-winner when he got behind Tyler Nubin and was hit in the numbers by John Paddock.
Their second, 4th quarter collapse cost Minnesota two Big Ten wins. Squandered opportunities are going to be a significant part of the 2023 narrative. More to come on the broader impact of today’s loss. But this was more than just another defensive collapse.
There were too many missed opportunities today, on both sides of the ball. Another Sean Tyler fumble, another dropped pass by Corey Crooms (in the end zone), 2 completions in th entire second half, missed blocks resulting runs for a loss and a couple of mistakes by Tyler Nubin on both of the Illini second-half touchdowns. Missed plays, missed opportunities and opportunistic plays by Illinois as they earned a Big Ten win.
Up next, the Gophers travel to Purdue next Saturday. The Big Ten West is still a division that nobody seems to want to win, but the opportunity may be fully squandered by Minnesota this year.