Gophers Upset Illini 27-20
Saturday, October 11, 2008

Tim Brewster returned to his alma mater and came away with the biggest win of his head-coaching career as him Minnesota Gophers defeated Illinois 27-20 before a sell-out Homecoming crowd at Memorial Stadium in Bloomington.

Double-digit underdogs, Minnesota was outgained in plays from scrimmage by more than 230 yards. However, Eric Decker solidified his status as one of the nation’s top receivers on two touchdown drives, and the Gophers scored two more touchdowns as a result of turnovers. Meanwhile, the Illini left points on the board and performed poorly on special teams. With 462 yards passing, junior quarterback Juice Williams kept Illinois in the game until the final play, a Hail Mary pass batted away in the end zone.

For Brewster, a tight end for Illinois in 1982 and 1983, endured his first season at Minnesota last year with a 1-11 record. The only win was a nonconference triple-overtime game against an inferior opponent, and the losses included a 44-17 beating by Illinois in Minneapolis.

An obviously improved Minnesota team came into Illinois with a 5-1 record, four of those victories against nonconference opponents. Perhaps the most significant win was over Bowling Green on the road. In the Big Ten, the Gophers lost at Ohio State and won at home against Indiana. A win on the road against a significant opponent, such as Illinois, was a way for the team to create a few more believers and establish itself as one that could contend in the Big Ten.

Minnesota took the opening kickoff and, thanks to Illini errors, had a short field to work with. Minnesota got the ball on its 40 after Michael Cklamovski’s kick off went out of bounds. On the first play from scrimmage, linebacker Martez Wilson grabbed DeLeon Eskridge’s face mask, moving the ball to the Illinois 45. Adam Weber immediate went to his favorite receiver, Eric Decker, for five yards, then found tight-end Jack Simmons over the middle for nine and a first down. A big hole on the left side that sprung Eskridge on the next play was wiped out by a clipping penalty by Ralph Spry and left Minnesota with a first-and-20 at the 41. Catches by Simmons and Decker got 16 of those yards back. On third-and-four from the 25, Weber lofted a pass down the left sideline. Decker had cornerback Vontae Davis beat, took the pass, then extended himself to the goal line. Originally Decker was ruled out of bounds at the 3, but a review of the play showed that he had hit the end-zone pylon with the ball and the ruling was changed to a touchdown. With Joel Monroe’s point-after, the Gophers had a lead they would never give up barely more than three minutes into the game.

Illinois overcame poor field position after Arrelious Benn had trouble controlling Monroe’s kickoff and was brought down at his 2. The Illini drove to the Minnesota 28 and faced a fourth-and-one. They originally lined up to try for the first down, then called time out and brought out Matt Eller to attempt a 45-yard field goal. However, Eller was wide to the left, and Illinois came away with nothing.

Monroe kicks to 9-Benn, who has trouble corralling ball. Finally picks up in end zone and is able to get out only to the 2. 21-Jason Ford stopped for one. Ford carries for 4. Two person fouls after play: 21-Simoni Lawrence for Minnesota and 16-Hoomanawanui for Illinois—offsetting. Dufrene comes in. On 3-and-5, Williams passes to Benn for 9 to 16. Dufrene carries for 6 to 22. Play-action, Williams rolls out and hits Hoomanawanui for 14 to I 36. Benn, out of backfield, takes short pass and gains 8 to I 44, 2-and-2. Williams keeps for first I 47. Benn takes short pass and breaks downfield, finally brought down by Theret at M 37. Williams sacked by 30-Lee Campbell for 7 yard loss to 44. With lots of time, Williams hits 15-Duvalt over the middle to M 29, 3-and-2. Williams keeps and is stopped short. 4-and-1 at 28. Williams out for play, but Illinois takes first time out. Eller is wide left with 45-yard field-goal attempts.

In the second quarter, Eller was on target with a 33-yard field goal that brought Illinois to within 7-3 with three minutes to play in the half. The Illini had driven inside the 10 but had to settle for the field goal after Williams was sacked by VanDeSteeg on a third-and-goal from the 8.

Minnesota had a chance to had some more points before half time. Cklamovski had another bad kick off that went out of bounds, giving the Gophers the ball at the 40. Two runs by Eskridge gave them a third-and-one at their 49, but a false-start penalty on Chris Bunders moved them back five yards. After a run for no gain by Eskridge, Illinois called time out with 1:16 left. Justin Kucek punted 37 yards to Benn, who returned it two yards before coughing the ball up after being hit by Nathan Triplett. Jack Simmons recovered for the Gophers on the Illini 22. However, the officials ruled that Benn had made an invalid fair-catch signal that, by rule, created a dead ball at the time of his catch. Illinois dodged disaster by not giving the Gophers the ball deep in their territory but could not move the ball themselves, and the score at halftime remained 7-3.

The score changed quickly in the third quarter. A block in the back on the kickoff return forced the Illini to start on their own 7. Running back Daniel Dufrene fumbled on the first play from scrimmage, and the Gophers recovered. It took three plays before Eskridge ran the ball in for a 14-3 Minnesota lead.

Illinois got another field goal to make it 14-6, then held the Gophers and got the ball back. After the Illini drove to the Minnesota 33, A. J. Jenkins found himself wide open on the 5. A pass into his arms would have been a touchdown. However, Williams nearly overthrew him, and Jenkins did a good job to corral the ball as he fell out of bounds. Williams then kept the ball on the ensuing plays as the Illini tried to drive it into the end zone. On second down, Williams was brought down just short of the goal line, and a review upheld the spot. After a sneak didn’t work, Williams faked a handoff on fourth down and then headed for the goal line. Steve Davis brought down Williams, who reached for the goal line and got a touchdown signal from the officials. However, a review showed he had been down before breaking the plane of the goal line with the ball, and, after a 10-play, 79-yard drive, the Illini came away emptyhanded.

In the fourth quarter, Weber connected with Decker on three straight passes after Decker had been held without a catch in the second and third quarters. The passes put the Gophers into Illinois territory. Eskridge followed with a spectacular run, darting through a hole on the right side of the line, cutting left, and then cutting back through tacklers for a 46-yard touchdown. Monroe missed the point-after, leaving the Gophers with a 20-7 lead.

Illinois struck back quickly. Williams floated a pass to Jenkins, who was again wide open on the right sideline. Jenkins took the pass at the Minnesota 36 and outraced Mike Rallis, who was unable to make a diving tackle, for a 54-yard touchdown that cut the Minnesota lead to seven points.

The Illini forced the Gophers to punt on Minnesota’s next possession and got the ball at their own 12 with 5:34 left in the fourth quarter. VanDeSteeg made another big play, sacking Williams and causing a fumble. Simoni Lawrence scooped the ball up and the nine and went into the end zone to give the Gophers a 17-13 lead.

Williams needed only three plays to get the seven points back for Illinois. He hit Will Judson, who took the pass over the middle and ran to the Gophers 35, a gain of 44 yards that would have been a touchdown if not for a tackle from behind by Rallis. After an incomplete pass, Williams went deep. Jenkins got behind Rallis made a great catch in the end zone, and Illinois had closed the gap to a touchdown again with 4:47 to play.

The Gophers produced a couple of first downs on their next drive. However, on the second, Ralph Spry, who had taken a pass and raced into Illinois territory, fumbled. Corey Liuget recovered for Illinois on the Illini 48 with 2:31 left.

With just over a minute to play and Illinois at the Gophers 25, VanDeSteeg hit Williams’s arm as he was passing, causing the ball to wobble high into the air. It came down in the arms of cornerback Ryan Collado, who was starting in place of injured Marcus Sherels.

However, the Gophers weren’t able to run out the clock as the Illini started using their time outs. A second-down rush by Eskridge was initially ruled a first down, the placed back a half-yard after a review. Eskridge was stopped short on third down, forcing the Gophers to punt the ball back to the Illini with 33 seconds left. However, the defense held, and the Gophers had the win.

Williams finished the game with 26 completions in 41 attempts for 462 yards. Benn led all receivers with 12 catches for 181 yards. For Minnesota, Decker had 86 yards on nine catches. With 41 yards, Williams led the Illinois rushers, while Eskridge had 124 yards for the Gophers.

Notes: The Illini basketball team held a post-game scrimmage on a court placed beyond the south end zone.

Illinois basketball scrimmage following football game Illinois basketball scrimmage following football game

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