CHAMPAIGN (WCIA) — The Gophers came to Memorial Stadium looking for their first win of the season, and that’s what they got. The Illini failed to show up, handing Minnesota a 41-14 win.
The Gophers racked up 340 first half yards, scoring 28 points, essentially putting the game on ice. The Gopher defense started the day as the worst in the country statistically, allowing an average of nearly 9.5 yards per play, yet the Illini offense never found its rhythm, struggling to move the ball.
“We’re just a lot better team than what we’ve been putting out and it’s just frustrating because we’ve put a lot of work in to have this team and you know it’s just disappointing,” says junior runningback Mike Epstein.
Epstein seemed to be the only positive from the game, rushing for 108 yards, and one touchdown, that included a 63-yard run in the second quarter making it the longest play of the game. Quarterback Coran Taylor made his first career start but unlike a week ago, the Peoria native had a harder time getting into a groove. Taylor finished with just six completions for 106 yards and a fourth quarter TD pass.
“It’s always tough when you get behind and try to play catch up,” says Taylor. “You never want to get behind or get too far behind where a game seems like it’s out of reach but you never stop fighting until the end.”
The Illinois defense allowed 365 rushing yards, and 556 offensive yards in total. Coran Taylor threw one touchdown pass to Josh Imatorbhebhe, but the offense was outshined by Minnesota runningback Mohamed Ibrahim. The junior scored four touchdowns for the Gophers, rushing 224 yards.
The offense struggled but the defense was worse, allowing 556 total yards, a staggering 325 on the ground. 12 Illini penalties totaling 120 yards made it even tougher. Safety Derrick Smith was also ejected in the first quarter following a targeting penalty, when the Illini were already down four defensive backs heading into the game.
“I mean it was just sloppy play all round. We weren’t physical, it was sloppy, that’s gonna get you penalties. We’ve gotta clean that up,” says linebacker Jake Hansen.
“I’m the head football coach, everything comes back to me,” says Lovie Smith. “Yes it goes back to our leaders too, who have been around here for a period of time, and everybody else that played out there today. It’s on all of us but it always starts with me and believe me, we’ll do something about it.”
Illinois starts the season 0-3 for the first time since 1997, Ron Turner’s first year. 15 Illinois players were also out on Saturday between COVID 19, contact tracing, and injuries.
The Illini take a trip to Rutgers next week, with an 11 am C.T. kickoff in Piscataway.