Last time between Minnesota and Illinois…

The Illini ran wild over the Gophers last year.

Nick Jungheim

Final:

Illinois 55, Minnesota 31

The Gophers defense had no answers for Illinois’ rushing attack last season as Minnesota failed to build off its first Big Ten victory of the season the previous week against Indiana. 

Combining to average 12.3 yards per rush, quarterback AJ Bush Jr. and running backs Reggie Corbin and Dre Brown torched Minnesota for 430 yards, dropping Minnesota to last place in the Big Ten West standings. The 55 points Illinois scored was the most Minnesota allowed in a game since 2011, but the second time in three weeks the Gophers conceded over 50 to an opponent.

Big plays doomed Minnesota as Corbin rushed for a 72-yard touchdown on the second play from scrimmage. After a touchdown from Gophers running back Mohamed Ibrahim tied the score, Brown matched Corbin with a 72-yard rush of his own to put Illinois ahead 14-7 on the ensuing possession.

Trailing 17-7 in the second quarter, Ibrahim cut Minnesota’s deficit to three points with another score. But lightning soon struck again for the Illini as Bush connected with senior Ricky Smalling for a 67-yard touchdown pass.

Senior kicker Emmit Carpenter brought the Gophers back within a touchdown with a short field goal just before the half, but Illinois would score the game’s next 24 points, including another 77-yard touchdown run from Corbin.

Defensive backs Jordan Howden, Coney Durr and Chris Williamson were three of Minnesota’s top four tacklers on the afternoon, illustrating just how often Illinois’ running backs were able to get to the second level. The Gophers parted ways with defensive coordinator Robb Smith the following day.

After that defeat, Minnesota’s defense saw a resurgence under new defensive coordinator Joe Rossi, allowing only 59 points in their next four games. Since falling to the Illini last year, the Gophers have gone 7-1. Conversely, Illinois has lost its last two games but was idle last week, giving them extra time to prepare.

Illinois no longer has Bush at quarterback. Instead their signal caller is now junior Brandon Peters who doesn’t offer as much in the running game as Bush. However, the Illini still have Corbin and Brown, who are both seeing productive seasons.

For the Gophers offense, sophomore receiver Rashod Bateman will hope to duplicate the success he had last year in this matchup. Bateman had his best game of 2018 against Illinois, catching seven passes for 175 yards and touchdowns of 61 and 86 yards.

Quotables from the game:

“This is a very, very disappointing loss … one of the most disappointing losses I’ve been around,” head coach P.J. Fleck told the media.

“Execution and tackling has been a problem we’ve been dealing with all year defensively … it turned out to be a disaster, that’s probably the nicest way I can put it,” linebacker Blake Cashman told the media.

“We didn’t tackle anybody tonight, [we] had people in a lot of holes just diving at the ankles instead of biting the ball,” Fleck told the media. “I think some of the speed on our defense was exposed in a lot of areas where they were able to run away from us and we couldn’t catch them.”