Football live blog: Minnesota vs. Illinois

Austin Cumblad

A late blocked punt returned for a touchdown goes begging as Minnesota is unable to recover the ensuing onside kick and Illinois runs out the clock for a 35-32 victory. It appeared as though the Gophers might overcome their biggest deficit in Brewster’s tenure, but an 8 play, 60 yard scoring drive by the Illini essentially dashes those hopes. Couple that with a three-and-out on the ensuing Minnesota possession and it will take something special in the waning minutes to keep the Gophers from their fifth loss. Don’t look now but the Gophers are only trailing by three points with 9:13 remaining in the game. Minnesota’s last two drives: 11 plays, 72 yards, 5:01, touchdown pass to Hoese and 9 plays, 70 yards, 3:36, touchdown run by Hoese. A new Adam Weber is on the field this half. One that makes good reads, accurate throws, even pump fakes every once in awhile. He’s 9-for-12 this half with a touchdown and 147 yards. Minnesota’s offensive MVP so far this game is fullback Jon Hoese. His third reception of the game, a 10-yarder to bring his game total to 49 yards, was the first touchdown reception of his career and an important one for the Gophers. It’s a two possession game now, 28-17. Juice Williams is on the sideline on crutches. I have a sneaking suspicion he won’t be returning today. What could have been a momentum shifting drive to begin the second half instead turned into a field goal. Minnesota had the ball on about the 1/2 yard line, but instead of trying to punch the ball in with Duane Bennett or Hoese (who already had receptions of 26 and 13 yards on the drive and a run of 6), the Gophers tried a play action pass that resulted in an 8-yard sack of Adam Weber, followed by an incompletion to Da’Jon McKnight. 28-10 after a 12 play, 73-yard drive. A bit of irony during the Minnesota marching band’s halftime show. The theme this week: theme songs from various cop shows. Surely the band has been working on the show for some time, but I have to think if they could have foreseen the rash of legal trouble Gophers athletes found this week, the theme might have been different. The best/worst part – when they spelled out CSI: MN. And the Gophers enter the half trailing 28-7. Hard to find anything positive about this half for Minnesota. Weber is 5-of-17 (29.4%), the Gophers have 7 yards rushing and Illinois’ Big Ten-worst scoring offense (18.9 point average) has already racked up 28 points. The highlight of the game: someone finally won the punt, pass and kick contest at halftime. Anthony, the contestant, drilled a 23-yard field goal set up by an impressive punt and pass. Sign him up. Sign number 43 that it’s a bad day: Minnesota’s special teams, easily its most consistent unit this season, is responsible for an out-of-bounds kickoff (the ball nearly went out at the 40) and a shanked punt (22 yards). Without Juice, Illinois’ offense sputtered for a couple drives, but a 31-yard strike from backup Jacob Charest to Arrelious Benn with a 7-yard illegal helmet-to-helmet hit penalty tacked onto the end put the Illini on the Minnesota 6. It didn’t take long for Illinois to punch it in and take a 21-7 lead late in the second quarter. 11:50, second quarter, Adam Weber’s best pass of the game thus far; right into Troy Stoudermire’s hands. Unfortunately, the pass took Stoudermire three yards out of bounds. Two plays later, a better pass, this one in bounds to Brandon Green for a much-needed first down. Two first downs later, the best (and most important) of all, Weber to Nick Tow-Arnett for a 20-yard gain on third-and 19. Two plays later, Kevivn Whaley rushes for 5 yards and a touchdown, 14-7 Illinois with 7:45 remaining in the half. Juice William’s is not in the game. Freshman backup Jacob Charest is now at the helm for Illinois. Juice does not appear to be on the sideline, either, suggesting that the injury he suffered on his first quarter fumble is relatively serious. Adam Weber’s early passing display: ugly. Through a quarter-plus, he’s 3-of-10 for 36 yards and an interception. He’ll need to call upon whatever helped him break out last week against Michigan State, and do so fast, before this game gets out of reach. Terry Hawthorne, listed as a wide receiver on Illinois’ roster, caught his first touchdown pass of the season, only it came as a cornerback and the pass was from Weber. Hawthorne easily jumped a flat route and flat-footed throw by Weber for a 44-yard interception return for a touchdown. 14-0 Illinois at the end of one quarter. Second play, second offensive possession, second fumble of the season for freshman quarterback MarQueis Gray. Unprepared for contact, Gray had the ball easily knocked out of his hand nearly the line of scrimmage by Josh Brent, who recovered it as well. The Illini take the ball with great field position but return the gift; defensive end Ced McKinley pops the ball out of Williams’ arms and linebacker Lee Campbell recovers. Juice is slow to get up after the play. We’ll keep you posted on his status. It’s hard to do much when your first play from scrimmage is a sack for a 6-yard loss; restricts the playbook significantly. Sack, incompletion, 8-yard completion from Adam Weber to Brandon Green, punt. Illinois takes over again from its own 20.

A big early opportunity for Minnesota’s defense to gain some confidence goes begging as the Illini convert a fourth-and-1 play from the Minnesota 41 with a 10-yard rush by Jason Ford. Two plays later, Juice Williams finds Jeff Cumberland for a 22-yard touchdown. 7-0 Illinois, 9:41 left in the first quarter.

 The Gophers shoot for bowl eligibility today at home against Illinois. Couldn’t ask for a better November day for football.