Slow start, fumble lead to Gophers loss

Minnesota fell in an upset loss to Illinois, tarnishing the team’s record heading into a bye week.

Grant Donald

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Everything was set up perfectly for the University of Minnesota to complete yet another second-half comeback against Illinois on Saturday.

After being held to just a field goal in the first half, Minnesota marched back and scored 21 points in the third quarter.

But with less than seven minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, the momentum came to a halt.

Senior running back David Cobb coughed up the ball, and Illinois cornerback V’Angelo Bentley returned it 12 yards for the game-deciding touchdown.

The Gophers lost 28-24 to an Illinois team that hadn’t won a Big Ten game since last November.

“I thought we had it in the bag,” senior linebacker Damien Wilson said. “We had the game in the bag.”

The Gophers had more than six minutes remaining to score a touchdown and head into their bye week undefeated in the Big Ten.

After both teams were forced to punt, the Gophers got the ball again.

It looked as if they might pull out the victory after redshirt sophomore quarterback Mitch Leidner found redshirt senior Isaac Fruechte for a 41-yard completion to put Minnesota inside the 30-yard line with just under two minutes remaining.

But the Gophers didn’t get any closer to scoring, as three straight incompletions and a fourth-down sack and fumble cemented their fate.

“[The loss] was really deflating,” Wilson said. “We were looking forward to keeping the roll going but came out flat. Things didn’t go well early on, [we] got behind and [we were] just digging out of [a] hole from there.”

Minnesota didn’t lose the entire game in the waning minutes, especially after starting the game down 14-0.

“They just played better than we did up front [in the first half]. They held the line of scrimmage, and we didn’t get a lot of movement,” head coach Jerry Kill said. “We had a couple of shots that we didn’t complete.”

Cobb, who came into the day with the fourth-most rushing yards in the country, was held to just 24 rushing yards in the first half.

Even with their limited success, the Gophers continued to run the ball in the third quarter. Their persistence paid off when Cobb found a hole and ran for 67 yards.

He finished the drive one play later with a 13-yard touchdown run, rounding out the day with 118 yards and two touchdowns but one costly fumble.

“Sometimes it’s not going to be pretty every time,” Cobb said. “You’ve got to make something happen. … [Late in the] fourth quarter, they trust me with the ball, and I dropped it. I fumbled, and that cost us the game.”

The Gophers also used the deep passing game to try and fuel their second-half comeback after Leidner only threw for 30 yards in the first half.

Leidner finished the game with 240 yards, including a 52-yard touchdown pass to Fruechte to start the second half comeback.

“We’ve just got to keep putting everything together. We do a couple good things today, and then we shoot ourselves in the foot a little bit,” Leidner said. “I take the blame for that because there’s a lot of passes I need to complete that I didn’t.”

The Gophers will head into the bye week with a 3-1 record in the Big Ten and a sour taste in their mouths.

After the bye week, the Gophers will be greeted by four of the toughest games on their schedule, starting with a home game against Iowa.

“I just think we came out a little flat looking forward toward the bye week instead of handling the game,” Cobb said, “and we paid for it.”