Illini rush past Minnesota

Nick Gerhardt

The picture of Minnesota football looks very hazy, almost like a three dimensional Magic Eye poster, where if someone looks long enough, the bigger image appears out from the fuzzy lines.

The first of the Gophers’ line begins with Minnesota yielding over 500 yards of total offense to an opponent.

The second line involves Gophers’ turnovers leading to opponent points.

The third line invariably involves a futile Minnesota offense.

The lines, when put together, look blurry; some can see an image of the future amid the obstructions, and head coach Tim Brewster remains one of the few at this point in the season for the Gophers football team.

“We all understand it’s a process and it’s painful right now. People don’t understand how bad it really does hurt,” Brewster said. “We have tremendous vision of where we want to go and what we want to do and we’re going to get there without question.”

Minnesota (1-9 overall, 0-6 Big Ten) lost 44-17 against Illinois, (7-3 overall, 4-2 Big Ten) Brewster’s alma mater, in a game where the Gophers allowed 655 yards of total offense.

For the seventh time this season the Gophers allowed an offense to gain over 500 yards against them.

Saturday also marked the sixth consecutive week where a Weber turnover turned into points for the opposition.

Minnesota did, however, score an offensive touchdown, something they did not do last week against Michigan.

Beginning to make something out yet?

In the omnipresent glass-half-full thinking of Brewster, the team will rise from the ashes.

“We’re building guys up. We’re building for the future. The Minnesota Golden Gophers will be a great football team again,” he said.

This game started uglier than any other this season when on the first play from scrimmage freshman quarterback Adam Weber threw an interception to Vontae Davis and the Illini took over at their 49-yard line.

Six plays later wide receiver Jacob Willis flew by freshman defensive back Ryan Collado on a post route and hauled in a Juice Williams pass for a 7-0 lead just a 1:56 into the game.

Minnesota stalled on their next drive and Illinois took over at their own 12-yard line.

Williams led the Illini down the field where he found converted wide receiver Jeff Cumberland on a post route that looked identical to the first scoring pass to push the score to 14-0.

The Gophers appeared to gain momentum on their next drive but before they could sustain the threat, three holding penalties derailed their opportunity.

“There were a lot of stupid little penalties that killed our momentum on drives,” Weber said. “When you’re going against an offensive like Illinois you have to make every drive count and we didn’t do that.”

On the ensuing Illinois drive, Williams under-threw his receiver and senior cornerback Desi Steib intercepted the pass to return it to the Illini 31-yard line.

Minnesota picked up one first down and the drive stalled. Brewster sent junior kicker Joel Monroe in to kick a field goal and drew the game to 14-3 in the second quarter.

It took Illinois just two plays to increase their lead when they regained possession as junior running back Rashard Mendenhall took a handoff, stiff armed a would be tackler and dashed to the end zone untouched on a 64-yard run to make the score 21-3.

Freshman kick returner Harold Howell returned the ensuing kick to the Illini 48-yard which set up an eventual 15-yard touchdown toss from Weber to senior receiver Ernie Wheelwright to make the score 21-10.

Williams then led a nine play drive that covered 77 yards when he powered his way to the end zone on a seven yard run to increase their lead to 28-10 with 5:58 remaining in the first half.

Illinois had two more possessions before the half that both resulted in field goals and entered the locker room with a 34-10 lead.

At half the Illini had accumulated 429 yards on offense, largely due to the strong legs of Mendenhall who carried 17 times for 203 yards on the evening with two touchdowns.

“They came out in the first half and hit us in the mouth and we weren’t able to come back,” senior safety Dominique Barber said. “The biggest thing on defense is stopping the run and we didn’t do that.”

Few fans hung around for the second half with many leaving before the first half even ended, and for good reason.

With the game growing out of hand in the second half the Illinois relented on their attack and only produced 10 more points for the 44-17 final.

The Minnesota offensive line had a difficult time dealing with the strong pass rush of the Illini giving up four sacks and seeing Weber rush throws and miss receivers.

Weber completed 18-of-31 passes for 208 yards and found Wheelwright nine times for 123 yards while the offense amassed 337 yards.

In the end, with few fans in the stands, the picture became clearer.

“It’s frustrating but you can see the big picture,” Weber said. “We knew its going to be a learning process and there will be troubles along the way, we were hoping it wouldn’t be so drastic.”