Welcome to the TCR GameThread! The Fighting Illini will return home to Champaign on Saturday to face the Michigan Wolverines, and Steve Bourbon (@steve_bourbon) will be covering the action for us. Make sure to refresh this page throughout the game for updates and analysis on the Orange and Blue.
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We'll have a recap up shortly after the game concludes; all post-game discussion should take place there. Go Illini!
It's Homecoming in Champaign, which means it's time for the third straight season of the Red Grange 'Gray Ghost' uniforms for the Fighting Illini. If you haven't seen this year's threads, check them out here (I'm a huge fan of the updated helmet, by the way). All indications point to the second straight week of the Jeff George Jr experiment, and we should get a much better assessment of the redshirt freshman this time around. I'm not sure anyone would be able to walk into the Big House against the No. 1 defense in the land and play well, and George certainly took his lumps last week before settling in once the Wolverines took their foot off the gas. Minnesota struggled with Rutgers last week, and they've failed to meet the sky-high preseason expectations set forth by their eager fan base. This *should* be a competitive, low-scoring game that Illinois might be able to hang around in. I'm hoping for a small step forward from George and for the Illinois defense to force some turnovers against Mitch Leidner and co. Let's get going.
12:49 1st Quarter: Not a great start. The Illinois defense forces a Minnesota punt, but a botched handoff exchange leads to a Illinois turnover on the first play of the drive. The Gophers capitalized with a 9-yard touchdown run immediately to take an early lead.
Minnesota 7, Illinois 0
5:11 1st Quarter: A response! The Illini march down the field, highlighted by a 23-yard completion from George to Tyler White to get inside the 5-yard line and Ke'Shawn Vaughn punched it to tie up the game.
Minnesota 7, Illinois 7
2:16 1st Quarter: Another Illinois turnover leads directly to Minnesota points. Darius Mosely fumbles a punt and the Gophers recover and tack on another touchdown to regain the lead. The Illini entered the game ninth in the country in turnover margin, but their two giveaways have been costly today.
Minnesota 14, Illinois 7
0:54 1st Quarter: Illinois converts a third down with a completion to Malik Turner but he is hit helmet-to-helmet by safety Duke McGhee, who is whistled for targeting and is ejected. Turner is still down on the field, and they're bringing out a stretcher to take him off the field.
End of 1st Quarter: Minnesota 14, Illinois 7
End of the 1st: Minnesota 14, Illinois 7 pic.twitter.com/QbYDKTbjdQ— Illini Stats & Notes (@IlliniStats) October 29, 2016
12:47 2nd Quarter: Illinois drive stalls just past midfield and George eats a big hit in the midsection on third down. Gophers will be backed up into their own endzone, starting at their own 8-yard line. They have just 54 total yards, but lead because of the two Illini turnovers.
Malik Turner on way to hospital, moving his extremities, according to @wdws1400 broadcast— Matt Daniels (@mdaniels_NG) October 29, 2016
6:15 2nd Quarter: A pair of holding penalties stifle that Minnesota drive, capped off with a 9-yard punt. Illinois will take over at its own 35-yard line. Of note, Mike Svetina was getting some snaps at the end of that drive. Oft-injured senior has rarely been used this season.
3:29 2nd Quarter: Jeff George Jr. has been efficient, but has yet to threaten the defense down the field. He tossed a deep ball to Hardee into the wind that ended up being very underthrown, but it drew a pass interference infraction. He's 8-of-10 for 63 yards. The Illini stalled inside the Minnesota 40-yard line once again, and once again, Ryan Frain pins the Gophers back near their own 10-yard line.
0:42 2nd Quarter: The Illini nearly get fooled on a middle screen play on third and long, but the Gophers are stopped just short. Lovie burns a timeout to give Illinois a chance to get the ball back before halftime.
HALFTIME: Minnesota 14, Illinois 7
Halftime: Minnesota 14, Illinois 7 pic.twitter.com/VpzKciVaZC— Illini Stats & Notes (@IlliniStats) October 29, 2016
A lot of ugly football being played. Minnesota only scored, thanks to a pair of Illinois fumbles that set them up in the red zone, and Illinois has been able to move the ball in small increments, only to be stopped just past midfield. An X factor for the second half will be that each team will be getting a starting linebacker back on its defense because both players recorded targeting penalties in the second half last week. The key for Illinois to win this game -- and this game is winnable -- is to win the turnover margin. Don't give up the ball on a short field and make things easier on your offense. Jeff George Jr. has done a nice job of managing the game, but he's not going to go out there and light the world on fire. He needs the defense to help set him up with advantageous field position.
12:11 3rd Quarter: Fast start for the Gophers. Illini go three-and-out and punt - but Minnesota muffs the return and recovers the fumble. Leidner connects on a long completion on third down to get the Gophers in the red zone, and Rodney Smith rumbled in for a touchdown to double up Minnesota's lead.
Minnesota 21, Illinois 7
11:01 3rd Quarter: Three more plays, no first downs and a punt for Illinois. Add on a 15-yard penalty for kick-catch interference and it feels like Minnesota can put the game away here with a touchdown.
9:22 3rd Quarter: Solid stand by the Illini defense. Minnesota was in-between field goal and punting range, and the Gophers opted to go for it on fourth down. Leidner's pass is incomplete, and the Illini will have great field position. Got to think the offense gets a little more daring on this possession after two consecutive three-and-outs.
8:56 3rd Quarter: Ke'Shawn Vaughn rips off a long run into Minnesota territory, but Dominic Thieman is injured on the play. The freshman has seen a lot of time today and has recorded three catches.
5:24 3rd Quarter: The Illini convert a fourth down with Vaughn in the Wildcat, then George threads a pretty pass to Zach Grant on a corner route for a 16-yard touchdown. The Illini are within a touchdown!
Minnesota 21, Illinois 14
Zach Grant Touchdown pic.twitter.com/R6NFi7jDa6— IllinoisLoyalty (@IllinoisLoyalty) October 29, 2016
2:05 3rd Quarter: Big video review here. On third and 5, Leidner hits his tight end, who bobbles it and it was unclear if he hauled it in before the ball hit the ground. Ruled as a catch on the field, and review confirms the call. First down Minnesota at the Illinois 40-yard line.
End of 3rd Quarter: Minnesota 21, Illinois 14
14:56 4th Quarter: Leidner executes the read option to perfect as Phillips tackles the running back, and the Gopher QB walks in untouched. With the Illini's anemic offense today, two scores seems like a tall hill to climb in under a quarter.
Minnesota 28, Illinois 14
12:13 4th Quarter: Minnesota pins the Illini back at their own 2-yard line with a punt, and George Jr. is sacked on the first play for a safety. Just mop up duty left here.
Minnesota 30, Illinois 14
7:43 4th Quarter: Another negative play out of George. Youngster tries to scramble away and gets sacked, fumbles and Minnesota recovers. With another short field, the Gophers tack on a field goal.
Minnesota 33, Illinois 14