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“The Watchers” is a film adaptation of the 2022 book of the same name by A.M. Shine.
Review: “The Watchers”
Published June 13, 2024

Minnesota defense gives up last-minute touchdown in loss to Illinois

Minnesota retook the lead in the fourth quarter until a touchdown pass by Illinois backup quarterback John Paddock.
Image by Amaya Battle
Athan Kaliakmanis lines up under center, ready to run a play against Michigan Oct. 7, 2023.

Minnesota fell in the final minute to Illinois on a touchdown pass to receiver Isaiah Williams from quarterback John Paddock, dropping to 5-4 on the season, with a final score of 26-27.

Minnesota saw the return of Zach Evans to the backfield, but Darius Taylor missed his third game out of the last four. True freshman offensive lineman Greg Johnson made his second career start in the absence of Tyler Cooper for the second straight week.

Illinois Head Coach Bret Bielema went into the game 9-0 against the Gophers, including seven wins as the head coach of Wisconsin.

Gophers running back Sean Tyler fielded the opening kickoff and fumbled for the fourth time this season. The ball was recovered by Illinois at the 20-yard line.

Three plays later, Illinois quarterback Luke Altmyer hit tight end Tip Reiman over the middle for a 15-yard touchdown, making it 7-0 Illini.

Redshirt sophomore running back Jordan Nubin got the first two offensive touches for the Gophers and took them for 11 yards. Gophers quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis hit Corey Crooms Jr. for a 10-yard gain for consecutive first downs.

Kaliakmanis hit his go-to receiver, Daniel Jackson, on a back-shoulder fade for 24 yards. The following play, receiver Elijah Spencer torched man coverage across the field for a 15-yard touchdown reception, his first as a Gopher.

Altmyer and the Illini put together a long 14-play, 75-yard drive ending in a touchdown pass to a wide-open Williams. The touchdown reclaimed Illinois’ lead with the score of 14-7.

Evans got a pitch for his first touch after missing last week and ran it for 12 yards and a first down. Gophers tight end Brevyn Spann-Ford made a great catch on a high throw from Kaliakmanis and picked up 20 yards.

At the end of the first quarter, Kaliakmanis was a perfect six-for-six for 80 yards and a touchdown.

Spann-Ford found room over the middle and got into a foot race before running over the defender into the end zone for a touchdown, tying the game 14-14.

On the next drive, Illinois missed the field goal and the Gophers offense reclaimed possession. Chris Autman-Bell got his second catch of the season, picking up a first down on a gain of 10 yards. This was followed by Nubin getting back-to-back carries for 11 yards and another first down.

Minnesota utilized the hottest play in football, the “brotherly shove,” to keep the drive alive on third-and-one as Kaliakmanis picked up the first down.

The Gophers ran it on third-and-nine and picked up four yards, making it fourth down. Head coach P.J. Fleck called a timeout before the play clock expired.

Fleck, during the postgame press conference, said the idea was to break off a run and pick up the first down.

“We thought when they were getting into a two-safety defense, I thought we were going to pop a run,” Fleck said. “We got sacked there, we’re out of field goal range … that wasn’t safe. That was more just we wanted to take the lead going into halftime.”

Kicker Dragan Kesich trotted out to attempt a field goal to put Minnesota ahead with one minute and 25 seconds left in the first half. Kesich drilled the 36-yard attempt, putting the Gophers up 17-14.

Kaliakmanis and Spann-Ford led the Gophers on offense at the end of the first half, connecting for 58 yards and a touchdown.

Gophers defensive lineman Jah Joyner opened the second half’s first drive with a strip sack on third-and-nine. The ball was recovered by Gophers’ Chris Collins at the Illinois 12-yard line.

Crooms Jr. dropped a touchdown on the first down. After a run on second down, Kaliakmanis was sacked. Minnesota spoiled an opportune field position but ended up settling for a field goal, adding to their lead and making it 20-14.

Illinois used running back Kaden Feagin on four straight plays, the first three being rushes for 21 yards, and the last concluding the drive on a 54-yard receiving touchdown. Illinois’ extra point was good, pushing them past the Gophers with a score of 21-20 with just over 10 minutes left in the third quarter. The catch marked Feagin’s first career receiving touchdown and his third touchdown of the season.

Altmyer picked apart the Gophers secondary on Saturday, going 17-for-22 (77%) for 181 yards and three touchdown passes.

Kaliakmanis concluded the next offensive drive by bouncing a pass to Crooms Jr. and taking a sack on third down, forcing a punt on fourth-and-22. Mark Crawford’s punt went 49 yards and was downed at the Illinois 21-yard line.

The Gophers ended the third quarter going three-and-out after a personal foul on Illinois, making it the fifth straight drive between the two teams ending in a punt.

Gophers defensive linemen Kyler Baugh and Jalen Logan-Redding combined for a sack on third-and-eight. Minnesota took over at their own 31-yard line after a 37-yard punt by Illinois punter Hugh Robertson.

Nubin picked up nine yards on two carries, making it third-and-one. On third down, Nubin was dropped in the backfield after no one picked up the rush by backside backer Clayton Bush, resulting in a loss of two yards and a punt from Minnesota.

Illinois converted on a third-and-three across the middle of the field. As Williams went down, Gophers linebacker Cody Lindenberg punched the ball out and defensive back Justin Walley recovered.

Kaliakmanis dropped a perfect over-the-shoulder pass into the hands of Jackson in the end zone for a 31-yard touchdown. The Gophers attempted a two-point conversion but failed, keeping the score at 26-21.

Minnesota’s ballhawk, defensive back Tyler Nubin, intercepted Altmyer’s pass over the middle, and the Gophers got the ball back with four minutes left in the game. The interception marked his 12th career interception as a Gopher, tying the program record set by Sean Lumpkin and Jeff Wright.

The Gophers’ offense went three-and-out, forcing Illinois to take two timeouts before they punted it back to the Illini.

Gophers defender Anthony Smith’s strip sack on third-and-11 was recovered by Illinois at the line of scrimmage. On fourth-and-11, John Paddock, Illinois backup quarterback, found Williams for a gain of 22 yards.

On the next play, Paddock found receiver Pat Bryant for 17 yards and a second-consecutive first down into Minnesota territory.

Williams streaked down the middle, wide-open behind the Gopher defense and hauled in a 46-yard touchdown from Paddock. After a failed two-point conversion attempt, the Gophers trailed 27-26 with 50 seconds left.

Tyler Nubin, during the postgame press conference, said the game-winning touchdown happened due to miscommunication.

“Just miscommunication, that’s something that was something that happened multiple times in that game,” Nubin said. “That’s not us. When we’re not communicating, we’re not our best.”

Nubin also attributed miscommunication to the first two touchdowns where, on two separate plays, Illinois had a wide-open receiver in the end zone.

Minnesota did nothing on offense and could not convert on fourth down, leading to Illinois kneeling out the clock to end the game.

Kaliakmanis, during the postgame press conference, said it is up to the players to execute, and they fell short of that on Saturday.

“It really does all come down to execution as players,” Kaliakmanis said. “It’s a player’s game. We have to execute when we get the chance to execute.”

The Gophers lost their 10th straight game against Bret Bielema and still have not beaten him in his time as a head coach.

After the day started with Wisconsin and Nebraska losing, opening up the Big Ten West, the Gophers lost and the Hawkeyes won. Iowa now holds the prime position as leader of the division while Minnesota falls to 5-4 on the season and 3-3 in conference play.

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