Gophers Rush Past Illini 40-17
October 5, 2019

Last year in Illinois, the Minnesota Gophers allowed the Illini 432 rushing yards, 213 by Reggie Corbin, who had two touchdown runs of more than 70 yards. Illinois won 55-31.

In 2019, it was Minnesota that relied on the ground game. Rodney Smith ran for 212 yards and Shannon Brooks for 111 in a 40-17 win.

The Gophers were strong on defense, allowing only a field goal and holding the Illini to 91 yards rushing. Corbin had 68 although his carries were diminished in the second half as Illinois had to go to the air as it fell farther behind. Matt Robinson, who entered in the second quarter when starting quarterback Brandon Peters was injured, completed 15 of 29 passes for 125 yards, 10 of the completions and 78 of the yards in the second half.

Tanner Morgan of the Gophers connected on 9 of 17 passes for 155 yards, enough for the Illini to not be able to focus totally on the runners, although he had a shaky start. Two of his first three passes on Minnesota’s opening drive were off-target. A pass on the next drive was on-target, only in the sense that it was right at linebacker Dele Harding, who returned it 40 yards for a touchdown to give Illinois a 7-0 lead.

The Gophers got three back in the first quarter, set up by Antoine Winfield’s interception at the Illinois 25 and return to the 12. Michael Lantz kicked a 28-yard field goal to cut the lead to 7-3.

Smith was the difference when the Gophers got the ball again, running 64 yards to the Illinois 14. Two plays later, Tyler Johnson slipped behind cornerback Nate Hobbs, leaped at the goal line and tipped Morgan’s pass in the air, and then caught it in the end zone.

Later in the quarter, Illinois wasted a drive in which Corbin carried four times for 44 yards when James McCourt was wide on a 43-yard field-goal attempt, and Minnesota responded with Morgan hitting Chris Autman-Bell and Roshod Bateman with passes to bring the Gophers to the Illini 21. Brooks finished the six-play drive with a 21-yard touchdown run for a 16-7 lead with 1:32 left.

Robinson moved Illinois downfield quickly with one passs to Josh Imatorbhebhe and a pair to Donny Navarro to set up a 47-yard field goal by McCourt.

Smith had 146 yards rushing as the Gophers took a 16-10 lead into the locker room.

Minnesota extended the lead right away in the second half, Bateman getting open for a 59-yard reception, the final 29 after the catch. On third down at the 10, Morgan found Autman-Bell for a touchdown. Late in the third quarter, freshman Brevyn Spann-Ford got his first college reception, a 12-yard pass from Morgan for a touchdown.

The lead shrunk when Illinois got its second defensive touchdown. On a second-down play at the Minnesota 15, linebacker Jake Hansen hit Morgan as he started to pass. The ball squirted up and back to the ground at the 7, and another linebacker, Milo Eifler, scooped it up and ran in for a touchdown.

Illinois got no closer. Minnesota coverted a fourth-down play in the fourth quarter, surviving a review by the officials of the spot, and Smith covered eight yards for a touchdown on the next play. A 27-yard field goal by Lantz in the final minute capped the scoring.

Minnesota stayed undefeated in five games, upping its conference record to 2-0. This was the first win of the season for the Gophers of more than a touchdown. Illinois fell to 0-2 in the Big Ten.

The Gophers stay at home next week, against Nebraska.

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