Wow! What a game! How was that for a change? Minnesota always seems to spoil things for us, but yesterday was different. That's pretty much the theme of this post--we were different yesterday. Nobody would have expected that our defense, our run game, Reilly O'Toole's stability, and our ability to create turnovers would have won us the game. These are things we haven't done all season, and yet Saturday we did them.
There was some slight optimism for this game. Some thought it would be close and out of those people some thought we would win. I was one of those people as was Aaron and Scott Van Pelt of ESPN. Aaron came one point away from predicting the correct score!
From the prediction thread:
Aaron Rench --- Illinois 27, Minnesota 24
Homecoming, new jerseys, new quarterback -- all of these combine to get the Illini to their best level of play this season. Our defense will still have the flood gates open, but it will be the offense, just like most weeks, that saves the day.
That's pretty darn good analysis right there. Other than the part about the defense it was almost spot on.
Bryce Smith --- Illinois 31, Minnesota 27
I haven't predicted very many upsets this year, but I'm going to for this game, which will come down to the defense being able to stop anything against Minnesota's run. I truly believe Aaron Bailey and Mike Dudek could have huge days and lead us to victory. I might look back on this and say my prediction was stupid, though. One other note: if this is a blowout then Beckman might be gone and the countdown will really start for basketball season.
The only reason I put mine in there is because we ended winning by four points, which was really my only good prediction from that blurb.
And Scott Van Pelt got in on the action this week too:
Thanks to @SVPandRussillo for the #Illini #GrayGhost shoutout! pic.twitter.com/fQ4DjIiI1V— Illinois Football (@IlliniFootball) October 22, 2014
@Champaign_Room as I was saying...— Scott Van Pelt (@notthefakeSVP) October 25, 2014
Now here's four main reasons we won the game:
Tim Banks and the defense did something we had been asking for for a while: they stacked the box and forced Minnesota to throw the ball. Even when Minnesota was throwing deep bombs, I was still wanting us to stack the box. It ended up working and it caused the game winning fumble.
At the beginning of the game we were stacking the box and on every play and it worked causing quick three-and-outs for the Gophers. On one long drive where Minnesota "Minnesota'd", they went play after play running the ball and the defense was able to hold them to three--that ended up being huge. Early in the game we were getting a lot of pressure, which helped our efforts. If players like Dawuane Smoot and Jihad Ward can keep getting pressure off the edge then that will help us.
The reason I wanted to keep stacking the box was for fear of what happened on David Cobb's long run. I had said it earlier in my post on the rush defense; when we spread out and try to defend the pass there are wide open holes. We finally decided to spread out to stop Leidner from throwing and Cobb ran up the middle for 66 yards. From then on (well other than the TD on the next play) we stacked the box and were able to hold Cobb to just 52 yards on the ground for the day.
Reilly O'Toole and the Running Game
I was also surprised and excited for Reilly O'Toole. He didn't make the mistakes that we've seen him making the last two weeks. He did his job and kept us in the game. His early leadership led us to two touchdowns that ended up being huge. He made some big throws that we needed him to make and, for the most part, kept the offense moving.
Reilly O'Toole was also helped by the fact that he didn't have everything on his shoulders. The running game helped take some of the pressure off. Cubit orchestrated a great drive where most of the plays were out of the I formation; Josh Ferguson would end up jumping over everyone for the touchdown. Minnesota couldn't stop the trio of Ferguson, Donovonn Young, and Devin Church. They were able to keep the Gophers' D on their heels for most of the game.
The offensive line also played well against a good Gopher defensive line. On the very first play of the game, Young found a wide open hole for 15 yards. There were a few times when Ferguson would run right through an open hole and then would spin or juke out a Minnesota defender.
It seemed that for the first time in a while the Illini won the little things. The defense was able to create turnovers in key situations, another thing they did well on Saturday. Mason Monheim had a big INT (nothing came of it though), and V'Angelo Bentley returned a huge fumble, which was forced by TJ Neal. And ET3 had a big sack and fumble recovered by Jihad Ward. This helped push the defense over the edge against the Gophers.
So the Illini were able to take away Minnesota's run game. They finally did everything they needed to win a football game: they forced turnovers, ran the ball and ate clock, played well against Minnesota's run game, didn't make mental mistakes, and got their first Big Ten win of the season against a solid team.