Quick Hitters: Minnesota blown out at Illinois

The Gophers struggled to contain Illinois’ offense, giving up a season-high 55 points.

Quarterback Tanner Morgan prepares to pass the ball on Friday, Oct. 26 at TCF Bank Stadium.

Tony Saunders

Quarterback Tanner Morgan prepares to pass the ball on Friday, Oct. 26 at TCF Bank Stadium.

Paul Hodowanic

Final: Illinois 55 – Minnesota 31

After a tightly played first half, Illinois outscored Minnesota 21-0 in the third quarter, cementing the Gophers’ fourth loss in their last five games. 

Redshirt freshman quarterback Tanner Morgan started his second career game, throwing for 258 yards and two touchdowns. Wide receiver Rashod Bateman had seven catches for a career-high 175 yards and two touchdowns. Running back Mohamed Ibrahim added 98 yards on the ground and rumbled in for two touchdowns. 

The Gophers’ defense allowed a season high in points, 55 and rushing yards, 430. This was just the latest instance in a string of bad defensive performances in Big Ten play. In response, defensive coordinator Robb Smith was fired Sunday night, per a statement released by the team. Current defensive line coach Joe Rossi will take over as interim defensive coordinator.

It was over when: 

Illinois scored 24 unanswered points at the start of the second half, extending their lead from 24-17 to 48-17. The Gophers were able to cut into that deficit, scoring on two late touchdown catches by Rashod Bateman, but at that point the outcome had been decided. 

Key play:

On Minnesota’s second drive of the second half, Seth Green fumbled on the Gophers’ 30-yard line and Illinois recovered. On the next play, quarterback A.J. Bush Jr. found Daniel Barker for a touchdown that extended the Illini lead to 38-17. 

Five Observations:

1. Tackling struggles continue.

The Gophers allowed long touchdown plays of 77, 72, 67 and 30 yards, missing tackles on each play. The team missed an unofficial season high 22 tackles on Saturday, surpassing the previous high of 18, which came two weeks ago at Nebraska. The tackling woes also played a part in the team giving up 649 total yards to Illinois, who ranks seventh in the Big Ten in total offense. 

2. Tanner Morgan and Rashod Bateman are developing a strong connection.

In Morgan’s two starts as the starting quarterback, the tandem have combined for 11 catches for 283 yards and three touchdowns. Bateman has become Morgan’s go-to deep threat. On Saturday, he caught touchdown passes of 86 and 61 yards, and against Indiana he caught the 67-yard game-winning touchdown pass. Bateman has eclipsed 100 yards in both of Morgan’s starts, the only times he has done so this season.

3. Mohamed Ibrahim continues to play well.

Ibrahim ran for 98 yards and two touchdowns, making it the third consecutive game he has scored at least one touchdown. In a year where Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks have made little impact because of injuries, Ibrahim has carried the load well. He leads the team in rushing yards with 583, and has averaged over 5 yards per carry. 

4. The Minnesota defense struggles against athletic quarterbacks.

In the last three weeks, the Gophers have faced athletic quarterbacks who can scramble and run effectively on designed run plays. Against Illinois, A.J. Bush Jr. ran for 127 yards and two touchdowns. Indiana quarterback Peyton Ramsey averaged over 7 yards per carry, and against Nebraska Adrian Martinez ran for 125 yards and a touchdown. 

5. The Gophers’ bowl chances are not looking good.

With just three games left on the schedule, the Gophers will face Purdue and Northwestern at home before traveling to Madison, Wisconsin to take on the Badgers. In order to qualify for a bowl game, the team will need to win two of those games. However, that seems unlikely at this point, as they face the top three teams in the Big Ten West. Purdue is coming off two wins against ranked Ohio State and Iowa teams. Northwestern remains first in the Big Ten West and Wisconsin continues to be a hurdle the Gophers can’t get over.