Illini fall to Gophers, remain winless in Big Ten

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PHoto courtesy of Illini Athletics

Running back Reggie Corbin runs around a Minnesota defender on Saturday. Illinois lost 17-40.

By Jared Farmer, Staff Writer

The Illini defense frustrated Gopher quarterback Tanner Morgan early in the first quarter. After only having one incomplete pass against Purdue last week, the redshirt sophomore had five incompletions midway through the first quarter alone.

The pressure culminated into a pass being intercepted by senior linebacker Dele Harding, who put the Illini on the board with 6:58 left in the first with a 40-yard pick-six. After having no career interceptions through 26 games, Harding has interåcepted two passes in his last five.

Although the defense was disruptive in the passing game, Minnesota’s running game picked up the slack. The Gophers advanced down the field just in time for a 28-yard field goal from freshman kicker Michael Lantz before the end of the first quarter.

The Gophers immediately picked up the pace during the second quarter, getting in the scoring column. Morgan finally broke through the Illini defense down the drive. Advancing to Illinois’ 12-yard line, he found senior wide receiver Tyler Johnson for their first touchdown of the evening. A field goal conversion from Lantz put the Gophers up 10-7 with 11:23 in the second.

Both teams got stuck in a stalemate for the remainder of the second quarter until the Gopher’s Shannon Brooks broke the deadlock with a touchdown, putting Minnesota up 16-7. This is the first touchdown Brooks has scored since he returned from his second ACL injury and the 21st for his career.

The Gophers looked poised to close out the half with a double-digit lead, but after having the extra point attempt blocked and a late penalty for icing the kicker, junior Illini kicker James McCourt cut the Gopher lead to just six. Converting on a 46-yard field goal, McCourt is four-for-four on field-goal attempts greater than 45 yards, but zero-for-two on field-goal attempts below 45.

The Gophers opened up with a huge rush-fake to fool the Illini defense. After creating confusion, Morgan found Rashod Bateman wide-open to return the ball 59 yards. The run culminated in another touchdown by sophomore wide receiver Chris Autumn-Bell, putting the Gophers up 23-10.

The Gophers found themselves forcing their way into the Illini endzone again for another touchdown a few minutes later, this time by way of a 12-yard pass from Morgan to freshman tight end Brevyn Spann-Ford to extend the lead to 20 with 7:52 remaining.

The Illini cut the lead back to two touchdowns when junior Jake Hansen forced a fumble after tackling Morgan. Junior Milo Eifler recovered the fumble and ran in the 7-yards to give the Illini 17 points late in the third period.

Any momentum that play might have given the Illini was quickly erased by the Gophers in the fourth quarter. Rodney Smith rushed eight yards into the endzone after a failed drive by the Illini to go back up 20. The Gophers cruised for the remaining 12:48 to secure their fifth win of the season.

With the win, the Gophers remain undefeated, while the Illini drop to 2-3 overall for the season. The Illini lost their third straight game and remain winless (0-2) in the Big Ten.

@jaredefarmer

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