Grading Illinois football’s loss to Minnesota


Austin Yattoni

Minnesota running back Shannon Brooks (23) dives into the end zone for a touchdown during the first half of the game against Minnesota at Memorial Stadium on Saturday October 29. The Illini are losing 14-7 at half.

By The Daily Illini sports staff

Editor’s note: The Daily Illini football writers graded each facet of the Illinois football team’s 40-17 loss to Minnesota on Saturday. The Illini offense, defense, special teams and coaching were graded.

Offense: D

The Illinois offense started bad and only ended up getting worse. On the first play of scrimmage for the Illini, quarterback Jeff George fumbled the snap, giving the ball to Minnesota in the Illini red zone. The rest of the game featured a safety and two more turnovers for the Illinois offense. It also featured three injuries to Illini offensive players.

The Illini lost two wide receivers and a running back to injury Saturday. Malik Turner was the first to go down late in the first quarter. Then Dominic Thieman went down, followed by running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn who left the game in the fourth quarter.

All of these injuries put a lot of pressure on George and the Illinois running backs, who didn’t get any momentum the rest of the game. George finished with 156 passing yards, and the Illini running backs rushed for 138 yards, but only had one touchdown combined. The Illini struggled to move the ball all day, and the injuries only made things more difficult to an already struggling squad.

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Defense: C

Just like Illini offense, the Illinois defense did not get off to a good start. The only difference is that it wasn’t the defense’s fault they had a slow start.

On the very first drive for Minnesota, the Illini defense forced a punt, but then the Illinois offense gave the ball right back, and Minnesota was only nine yards from the end zone. The Illini were not able to keep the Gophers out of the end zone then, and they were not able to keep the Gophers out of the end zone three drives later when Minnesota recovered a botched punt return on the Illini 20-yard line.

When Minnesota did not have fantastic field position, the Illini did a decent job of containing them, at least for three quarters. Outside of those first two scores, the Gophers only had seven points in the first three quarters.

But the Illini got destroyed in the fourth quarter 19-3. Giving up a lot of points in the fourth quarter has been a problem for the Illini defense all season, and this game was no different.

Special teams: C

So far all of these have begun with a discussion about an early turnover, and for good reason. After the game, head coach Lovie Smith said that his team was focused on taking the momentum early. George fumbled the first snap, basically giving Minnesota a touchdown. Then, the Illini special teams did the same when Darius Mosely muffed a punt in the Illinois red zone.

One play later, the Illini were down 14-0, and the Homecoming crowd at Memorial Stadium had been all but silenced. Once they were taken out of it, the Illini could not find the energy to make a comeback. The game felt like it was over early, and it all seemed to swing with that second turnover/touchdown.

Coaching: B-

Coaches can only do so much. Offensive coordinator Garrick McGee spent all week working on a scheme to make George successful out there, but we’ve written it before. It always comes back to on-field execution. The Illini dug themselves into a hole that had nothing to do with coaching mistakes. Players were the ones making the mistakes.

When the Illini started to try and make a comeback, the injuries started to pile up. McGee had his scheme set up for his offense, but it included having Turner – the receiver who accounted for 43 percent of the Illini’s receiving yards entering the game – on the field. Then one of his running backs, who he was frequently putting under center to run a wild cat scheme, got hurt and left the game.

The defense seemed to be doing OK, but it was the same problem of wearing down and struggling in the fourth quarter. They kept the game close until the fourth quarter, and Nickerson’s defensive strategy seemed to be working all game. His defense was never put in a good situation.

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