Offense clicks for Gophers in 31-10 win over Illini

Minnesota racked up 446 total yards, including 302 yards rushing in the win

Brian Stensaas

Minnesota’s football team enjoys this life much better.

The Gophers enjoy the existence which they led the first four games of the year when they went 4-0 and were rarely challenged in a game.

And they don’t miss what happened last week against Purdue in West Lafayette, Ind.

After losing to the Boilermakers, the Gophers were so inept offensively that quarterback Asad Abdul-Khaliq personally blamed himself for the loss.

In a complete reversal of fortune, the Gophers were at their best in virtually every phase offensively in defeating the Illinois 31-10 on Thursday in front of an announced crowd of 32,662 at the Metrodome.

“We had something to prove,” Abdul-Khaliq said. “We missed some big plays last week and we needed to just come through. It feels great to come back like this.”

For junior running back Thomas Tapeh the reasoning was simple: Minnesota (5-1, 1-1 Big Ten) ran the football effectively.

Tapeh and Terry Jackson II each compiled more than 100 yards rushing as they controlled the line of scrimmage and the game clock.

In all, the Gophers ran 56 times for 302 yards and helped a hobbled Abdul-Khaliq lead an efficient offense.

Abdul-Khaliq battled through a sore right ankle and cramps to complete 55 percent of his passes for 144 yards and one touchdown. The Gophers rolled up 446 total yards.

The only mistake was an interception by Abdul-Khaliq in the second quarter as he attempted to hit receiver Aaron Hosack on a deep post. It was the Illini’s first interception of the season.

“Asad’s performance was really gutty,” coach Glen Mason said. “If you would have asked me earlier in the week if he could go the whole game and play this well I would have said no.”

Illinois (1-5, 0-2) kicked off the scoring with a safety when Minnesota long-snapper Peter Prudden sent a low snap to the right of punter Preston Gruening that bounced into the end zone.

Gruening batted the ball out of bounds before the Illini’s Morris Virgil could pounce on it for a touchdown.

Following the safety Minnesota kicked off and forced Illinois to go three and out. On the ensuing drive, the Gophers proved they would not let the unfortunate bounce affect them.

Jackson shot up the middle before breaking outside for a 59-yard run on the first play of the drive. Five plays later, Abdul-Khaliq hit receiver Aaron Hosack in the back of the end zone to give Minnesota its first lead.

On the drive, Abdul-Khaliq was 3-of-3 for 32 yards and a touchdown. The Gophers drove 84 yards on six plays in 1:24.

“I am always asked after a disappointing loss how the team will react,” Mason said. “We overcame some adversity after the muffed punt.”

Illinois pulled even at 10-10 after quarterback Jon Beutjer hit receiver Walter Young in the back of the end zone for a touchdown and then a two-point conversion.

But the Illini never got the strike they needed to make it a close affair as three offensive drives were halted in the red-zone, twice by fumbles.

In the second quarter, Illinois drove to Minnesota’s two-yard line before Beutjer was forced deep in the pocket by linebacker Bradley Vance.

Vance hit the quarterback and caused Beutjer to fumble when defensive end Mark Losli jumped on the ball at the 14-yard line. It ended Illinois’ scoring chance and gave the Gophers possession with 2:10 remaining in the half.

Using a mix of runs and short passes, Minnesota went 16 plays for 86 yards and capped it off with a Tapeh touchdown as time expired.

The Gophers scored a touchdown on their first possession of the second half and followed it up with a punt block by Jermaine Mays which he promptly scooped up in the end zone to finish the scoring.

Minnesota earned its fifth win of the season and now stands one win away from bowl eligibility.

The Gophers get their chance next Thursday when Northwestern comes to town for homecoming.


Brian Hall covers football and welcomes comments at [email protected]