Column: Barring miracle. Gophers won’t make Big Ten championship game

David Nelson

“Typical Gophers” is perhaps the only way to explain what transpired Saturday afternoon when Minnesota lost to arguably the worst team in the Big Ten.

Illinois walked all over the Gophers in the first half, and Minnesota simply couldn’t find a way out of the hole it dug itself into, ending the game with a 28-24 loss.

With the Gophers lacking energy and effort, Illinois’ No. 114 defense found a way to bottle up the Gophers’ offense for the first 30 minutes of the game.

Miscues and mishaps helped write the script for this weekend’s matchup, as old demons came back to haunt Minnesota — namely on offense.

The Gophers’ offense simply could not find its rhythm to start the game, going three-and-out on four of its first five drives.

Minnesota quarterback Mitch Leidner looked like what fans saw in the first three games of this season.

The redshirt sophomore was inaccurate and didn’t look confident throwing the football.

Though he did launch a few on-target passes down the field, those glimpses of competency came too late.

Minnesota’s offense finally jump-started itself once the third quarter rolled around, putting up 21 points against the Illini.

But a missed field goal from redshirt freshman Ryan Santoso and an uncharacteristic fumble from senior running back David Cobb prevented the Gophers from going anywhere in the fourth quarter.

Cobb’s fumble resulted in a scoop and score for Illinois, and the home team reclaimed the lead it built in the first half.

This time, though, the Illini didn’t relinquish it. The Gophers failed to perform for the rest of the game.

To the delight of their fans, the Illini — who last won a Big Ten conference game in November 2013 — emerged victorious over Minnesota. The victory was needed before the team faces tougher competitors on its schedule.

Typical Gophers.

While the defense can certainly take its fair share of the blame, the faltering Minnesota offense failed to establish many long drives.

In the end, though, it doesn’t matter much who gets the blame because the dream of the Gophers walking into the Lucas Oil Stadium with the Big Ten championship logo at the center of the field is almost certainly gone.

Not many people realistically thought the Gophers would lose just one game this season. But even fewer envisioned Illinois defeating them.

The chance for a spot in the top 25 is nearly gone, and Minnesota now moves on to face four of the Big Ten’s toughest teams: Iowa, Nebraska, Ohio State and Wisconsin.

Two of those games are on the road, and two of the teams currently rank in the top 25 in the country.

Barring some form of a miracle, Gophers’ fans need to severely temper their expectations for the rest of this season and beyond.