The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

Illini respond after the bye in Minneapolis miracle

After a disappointing loss where the Illini (4-5, 2-4) saw a 14-point lead evaporate in the fourth quarter on Homecoming weekend, they traveled to Minneapolis, Minnesota for another Big Ten West showdown — two weeks served the Illini well coming off of their bye week, as they beat the Minnesota Golden Gophers (5-4, 3-3) by a score of 27-26.

It was a quick start for the Illini as the Gophers fumbled the opening kickoff. Just three plays were needed for sophomore quarterback Luke Altmyer to punch it into the end zone. The Illini utilized an ideal starting field position at the Gopher 20, with junior tight end Tip Reiman finding himself all alone for a 15-yard touchdown reception.

The opening score was just the beginning of an offense-heavy first half of football, as the first four drives resulted in touchdowns for both teams. With junior defensive lineman Jer’Zhan Newton suspended for the first half, the Illini were without their best player and struggled to get stops. Six plays were all the Gophers needed to go 65 yards on their opening drive, with Illini defensive backs getting beaten badly on the final two plays. With the score knotted at 7-7, the Illini got a chance for their first real offensive drive.

Seven rushes and seven passes in the drive ended with junior receiver Isaiah Williams snatching a 9-yard pass from Altmyer out of the air, extending the lead to 14-7. The long rest for the defense made no impact, however, as the Gophers marched right down the field again. A 31-yard blown coverage play tied it up again, with Illini defensive backs screaming at each other in the end zone.

With the defense struggling without their star, another position unit continued their struggles with a costly mistake. The third Illini drive ended with a missed field goal from senior Caleb Griffin. As the kick fell short and wide right, Griffin moved to 6/10 on field goals in 2023 with freshman David Olano on the sidelines.

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    A Gopher field goal made it 17-14 at halftime as the Illini were set to receive the kickoff after the break with Newton’s return imminent. Against the wishes of the Illini, Newton saw the field early in the second half as Altmyer was stripped on the third play. Newton made his presence felt immediately, however, recording a third-down sack and staring at the Gopher sideline.

    With a six-point deficit, freshman running back Kaden Feagin took over. The 250-pounder rumbled for 21 yards on three carries before he broke loose in the receiving game. For the first time this year, Illini faithfully watched Feagin in the open field, and he took a dump-off 54 yards to the house. With a 21-20 lead, the Illini exchanged punts with the Gophers for seven consecutive possessions before the biggest mistake of the day.

    Altmyer found Williams for a first-down pickup with six minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. As Williams moved, the ball was punched out, and he lost it in the Gopher territory. The field position battle was over, and the lead was gone shortly after.

    The Gophers scored a 31-yard touchdown to take a 26-21 lead. An Altmyer’s interception put the ball back in the hands of the Gophers, where they burned just over a minute of clock and one Illini timeout.

    For their final drive, the Illini started at the Illinois 16 with 2:47 on the clock and one timeout. After the first three plays went nowhere, senior quarterback John Paddock came into the game for an injured Altmyer. Faster than the average human can blink, Paddock connected for three passes, capped off by a 46-yard strike to Williams for a touchdown. A failed two-point conversion saw the Illini leading 27-26 with 50 seconds remaining.

    The Illini defense held strong, making the final stand, with Newton and junior lineman Keith Randolph Jr. racking up pressures. The star duo was back for the first time in a month and led a stout defensive effort in the second half where they allowed only nine points, all of them off offensive turnovers. The Illini recorded their third straight win over the Gophers and kept their bowl hopes alive.

     

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    About the Contributor
    Ben Fader, Assistant Sports Editor
    Hello, I’m Ben! I’m a junior at Illinois and assistant sports editor at The Daily Illini. I’m majoring in journalism and minoring in communications and recreation, sport and tourism. This is my third year with The Daily Illini, and I can’t wait to produce some amazing work. Feel free to contact me at my email below with questions or concerns, or if you just want to talk sports!
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