Gophers Flatness in Finishing Leads to Illinois 14-6 Upset
November 6, 2021

In his post-game press conference after Minnesota’s win over Nebraska October 16, head coach P. J. Fleck used the word “culture” 19 times. He didn’t utter the word after Minnesota’s 14-6 loss to underdog Illinois. Instead, he spoke of “finish” as in finishing drives, which the Gophers didn’t do. “The whole story of the game is finish, and we didn’t finish.”

Fleck praised Illini coach Bret Bielema, who returned to the Big Ten this year after making himself a nemesis to Gophers fans and then-coach Tim Brewster in 2010 when he went for a two-point conversion with a 25-point fourth-quarter lead. This season has led Illinois to a win over mighty Penn State and a loss to lowly Rutgers.

The point spread varied in the game, with Minnesota rated by some as a 14-point favorite. The Gophers have relied on a strong offensive line that has allowed a variety of runners to rack up 100-yard games. Bielema’s squad also has relied on the rush, and the Illini clearly stuck to that strategy, especially after build a 14-0 lead on their first two possessions.

Illinois took over on the Minnesota 49 after intercepting a tipped Tanner Morgan pass on the Gophers’ first possession. After turning that into a touchdown, the Illini scored again on an 11-play, 86-yard drive. The Illini didn’t alter the scoreboard again, but neither did Minnesota until late in the fourth quarter.

Brandon Peters had 47 of his 80 yards passing for the game and four of his seven completions on the first two drives. Illinois then stuck to the ground, with sophomore Chase Brown rushing for 155 yards on 33 carries.

Fleck said that not getting points on the board in the first half changed the dynamic of the game, as a couple of Minnesota drives came up short. The Gophers got to the Illinois 22, but Cole Kramer was stopped on a fourth-and-one. Late in the quarter, Matthew Trickett missed a 45-yard field goal.

The Gophers again got to the 22 yard line in the third quarter and went for it on a fourth-and-six, only to have Morgan sacked, one of six sacks the Illini had.

Down by two touchdowns, Minnesota went into two-minute mode in the fourth quarter and completed an 86-yard drive with Morgan running into the end zone on fourth-and-goal from the one. However, Trickett missed the point-after, leaving the Gophers still needing a touchdown and two-point conversion. They didn’t have much of a chance as the Illini killed more than three-and-a-half minutes before a punt put the Gophers on their own 2 with 1:12 left and no time outs remaining.

Morgan completed his longest pass of the game, 36 yards to Dylan Wright, but after a spike to stop the clock, he was sacked for a loss of 11. An overthrown pass on third-and-21 was picked off, ending any hopes of a comeback.

Minnesota dropped to 4-2 in the Big Ten, leaving them in a first-place tie in the West with Purdue, Iowa, and Wisconsin. The latter two teams are among the remaining three teams the Gophers play, and Fleck reminded his team that it still controls its destiny. “The message to them is, ‘This is still in front of them.’”

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