Illinois Upsets Gophers 35-32
November 7, 2009

Coming off a big win over Michigan State the previous week, quarterback Adam Weber and the Minnesota Gophers couldn’t sustain the momentum against Illinois. The Illini, coming into the game with a 2-6 record (1-5 in the Big Ten), built a three-touchdown lead in the first half and then held on for a 35-32 win. Illinois sacked Weber seven times in the game (five of them by Clay Nurse) and survived the loss of starting quarterback Juice Williams, who left the game with an ankle injury in the first half.

The Illini took the opening kickoff and covered 80 yards on 10 plays. Williams hit Jack Ramsey for a 24-yard gain to the Minnesota 40 on a third-and-11 play. On a fourth-and-1 from the Minnesota 41, Jason Ford carried around the left side for 10 yards. After another completion to Ramsey, Williams, with plenty of time, hit Jeff Cumberland for a 22-yard touchdown.

The Illini threatened again when MarQueis Gray fumbled, forced and recovered by Josh Brent on the Gophers 33. Williams scrambled up the middle to the 19 but fumbled on the next play, and Lee Campbell of Minnesota recovered on the 21. Not only did Williams lose the ball, he injured his ankle and did not return. However, before the Illinois offense could take the field, the Illini scored again as Terry Hawthorne intercepted a soft pass by Weber, intended for fullback Jon Hoese in the flat, and returned it 44 yards for a touchdown.

In the second quarter, the Gophers faced a third-and-19 at the Illinois 40 after losing 14 yards on a fumble that Weber covered. Tight end Nick Tow-Arnett then made a fingertip catch for a 20-yard gain, and Hawthorne interfered with Da’Jon McKnight in the end zone to put the ball at the 5. Kevin Whaley took a pitch from Weber and carried it into the left corner of the end zone to pull the Gophers to within a touchdown midway through the second quarter.

However, the Illini came back with two touchdowns in the final four minutes of the half. A 31-yard pass from Jacob Charest, in for Williams, to Arrelious Benn to a Minnesota 13 got another seven yards tacked on because of a personal foul by safety Kim Royston for a helmet-to-helmet hit. On third-and-goal from the 2, Justin Green carried the ball over right tackle for a touchdown.

Illinois got the ball back with 2:13 left and great field position as Blake Haudan shanked a 22-yard punt that went out of bounds at Minnesota’s 39. The Illini made it to the 1 with seven seconds left. Ford carried, was stopped, but bulled his way into the end zone with 1 second to play, a touchdown that survived a video review to put Illinois ahead 28-7 at the half.

After having passed for 416 yards against Michigan State, Weber was held to 74 yards on 5-for-17 passing in the first half. The rushing game was even worse, as the Gophers picked up only seven yards on 17 carries. However, the offense picked up on the opening drive of the second half. The big plays were a pair of passes to Hoese for gains of 26 and 13. Hoese later had a six-yard run on a third-down play to give the Gophers a first down on the Illinois 1. After DeLeon Eskridge was stopped for no gain, the Gophers tried a play-action pass. Clay Nurse broke in for a sack, throwing Weber for an 8-yard loss. After a pass to Da’Jon Knight was broken up in the end zone by Hawthorne, the Gophers had to settle for a field goal by Eric Ellestad.

Illinois’s Matt Eller missed a 45-yard field goal later in the quarter, and the Gophers started a drive that culminated in a 10-yard touchdown pass to Hoese with 13:49 left in the fourth quarter. Minnesota’s defense held the Illini on the next series, and the Gophers got the ball back on their 30. Weber connected with Brandon Green for a couple of big gains, but it was up to Hoese to get the yards inside the 10. On a fourth-and-1 from the 8, Hoese gained five yards, then went up the middle again for a touchdown with 9:13 to play. Weber then lofted a pass that McKnight grabbed on the left side of the end zone for a two-point conversion to cut the Illini lead to 28-25.

Illinois started with good field position on its next drive, however, as Eric Ellestad’s kickoff was out of bounds, giving the Illini the ball at their 40. Illinois chewed up more than four minutes in covering the 60 yards to the end zone in nine plays, with Benn taking a four-yard touchdown pass from Charest to make the score 35-25.

Both defenses then held and forced punts, but the Illini’s punt was blocked by Keanon Cooper, picked up by Ben Kuznia, and returned for a touchdown to cut the gap to three points again. However, the Gophers had used their remaining time outs prior to the punt and, with 3:05 to play, had to try an onside kick, which went out of bounds, giving the ball to Illinois, which was able to run out the clock.

The Gophers missed a chance to become bowl eligible with their sixth win of the season and instead will have to seek that win in their next game, against South Dakota State.

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