‘Statement game’ from Gopher defense stuns Illini



By Daniel Johnson

Minnesota head coach Tim Brewster called Saturday’s win over Illinois a “program-changing victory,” one that the entire state of Minnesota would be proud of. While the second-year head coach might feel that his program is changing for the better, Illinois head coach Ron Zook and its players believe their program is regressing.

“(It’s like) that feeling that we had two years ago when we went 2-10,” quarterback Juice Williams said. “That’s a feeling that seems to come around, but as a leader of this team, you’ve gotta weed that feeling out. Obviously they’re hurt, we had a lot of momentum coming into this game, it was Homecoming, it hurts a lot, but we’ve gotta find a way to win this game … I hate that feeling.”

Zook talked in his press conference after the game about how the freshmen and sophomores on this team haven’t been through the rough times of pre-2007 and how that might be working against the team.

“Those are things we talked about, that J Leman talked to the team on Tuesday night about,” Zook said. “I just told the young guys in there, we’re going to find out what kind of team we are now … it’s hard when you have a lot of guys that haven’t been there. You’ve got two groups, two classes of guys that haven’t been through the tough times.”

Receiver Arrelious Benn was quick to point out after the loss that Illinois was likely hearing the wrong thing before the game – and hearing it often.

Get The Daily Illini in your inbox!

  • Catch the latest on University of Illinois news, sports, and more. Delivered every weekday.
  • Stay up to date on all things Illini sports. Delivered every Monday.
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.
Thank you for subscribing!

“Don’t let anyone tell you that you’re supposed to win this game,” Benn said. “A lot of people told us we were supposed to win this game. We need to go out and do it ourselves, we need to go out and do it each and every game.”

Stalwart Gopher defense

leaves Zook dissatisfied

After pressuring Michigan last week into five fumbles and recording four sacks of quarterback Steven Threet, the Illini had the tables turned on them this week. Minnesota sacked Williams five times, intercepted one of his passes and returned the quarterback’s fumble for a touchdown.

“Basically, this is a statement-making game for our defense,” Gophers defensive end Steve Davis said. “We came out to Illinois’ house and basically, all those things against us, refs against us, the other team against us, and our defense stepped up to today. Especially in the second half, going in there and causing some turnovers, getting some big hits, you know, making touchdowns on defense; doing what we can.”

Perhaps the most telling sequence of plays in the game was the Gophers’ goal-line stand in the third quarter. After a 28-yard completion to freshman receiver A.J. Jenkins, Illinois had first and goal on the Minnesota five-yard line, only to see Williams rush four times, three for no gain. Davis stopped Williams on the final attempt and Illinois turned the ball over on downs.

“I don’t think you can say you’re satisfied with anything in a loss,” Zook said.

Williams continues to rewrite Illini record books

For the second consecutive week, Juice Williams passed for over 300 yards; his total this week was 462 yards, the third-highest total in school history.

Williams totaled 503 net yards on the day, the second-highest total in program history only to Dave Wilson’s game of 585 net yards against Ohio State on Nov. 8, 1980.

Even though he had one of the greatest games in program history, Williams was decidedly subdued after the game.

“At the end of the season, 10 years from now, you’re not going to see pass yards in a game, you’re going to see wins and losses,” he said.