Same game, different stadium.
A defense that can’t stop the run. An ineffective offense. And some questionable coaching at the end of the first half.
That was the recipe in Illinois’ third straight loss Saturday afternoon, a 40-17 defeat at the hands of Minnesota in Minneapolis.
And the dessert to follow this game? Home contests against two of the Big Ten’s elite: Michigan and Wisconsin.
Illinois (2-3, 0-2 Big Ten) will certainly struggle in those games, considering the Illini couldn’t get much going against a now-5-0 Minnesota squad. The Illini went into the lockers with a 16-10 deficit, scoring on a pick-six and a field goal toward the end of the second quarter.
Before the first half ended, Brandon Peters was walked to the sideline and then locker room and did not return to the game due to an injury. With Isaiah Williams already sidelined with an injury of his own, Matt Robinson was summoned to play quarterback.
Both Peters and Robinson struggled under center. The pair of QBs combined to complete 20 of 39 passes for just 157 yards and an interception (thrown by Peters).
The run game was okay, but not great for Illinois.
A year after scampering for over 200 yards a year ago against Minnesota, Reggie Corbin was held to just 68 yards on 14 carries.
The only offense Illinois was able to generate came from the defense.
Lovie Smith’s ‘threatening’ defense saw Dele Harding return an interception to the house in the first quarter, and added another defensive score in the second half when Milo Eifler returned a fumble for a touchdown, but Minnesota’s offense did just enough to scrape by — despite a bunch of drops and put up 37 points.
Despite scoring twice, the Illini defense surrendered 30-plus points for the third game in a row.
The Illini’s defense was gashed on the ground yet again, as they surrendered over 300 yards of rushing for the second consecutive week. Rodney Smith embarrassed the Illini, accumulating 200 plus yards on the ground and a touchdown. Not to mention, Shannon Brooks also rushed over the 100-yard mark.
Tanner Morgan did enough for the Gophers, connecting on a trio of touchdown passes after throwing the first quarter pick-six. Despite an average game from its quarterback, Minnesota used the run game primarily to out-gain Illinois offensively more than two yards to one.
This loss, as well as every other defeat for the Illini have this year, will leave many fans calling for head coach Lovie Smith’s head. After all, this is the fourth year of the Lovie Era, and the 10-win plateau wasn't surpassed until the season opener against Akron.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
- Lovie Ball — With the offense struggling out of the gate, Dele Harding took matters into his own hands (literally) and returned a Tanner Morgan pass 40 yards to the house for the first score of the game.
- Oh, Mr. Robinson — Brandon Peters was forced out of action after a first-half run. Matt Robinson entered the game and played respectably with Isaiah Williams not making the trip due to an injury.
- 1st and 5 — For some reason, I just can’t stop focusing on that 1st and 5 in the third quarter past Minnesota’s 50. Robinson throws two incomplete passes and then takes a sack so Illinois has a 4th and 10. And then the Illini are forced to punt (which set up the fumble recovery). How pathetic.
- Butterfingers — Illinois’ already shaky offense was not aided by receiver play Saturday afternoon. Ricky Smalling, Trevon Sydney and Co. could not squeeze passes, whether they came from Brandon Peters or Matt Robinson.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Here’s the pick-six.
Dele Harding with a giant to the Homecoming crowd.— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) October 5, 2019
It's an @IlliniFootball pick six to start us off on BTN: pic.twitter.com/2HluMHNBer
TWEET OF THE GAME
Lovie pic.twitter.com/cnQII9ReoT— The Champaign Room (@Champaign_Room) October 5, 2019
The first-quarter pick-six was the Illini’s first in over two years.
Illinois' first INT return TD since Julian Jones (10 yards) vs. Western Kentucky, 9/9/2017.— Illini Stats & Notes (@IlliniStats) October 5, 2019
Broke this two-year drought too.
Milo Eifler has Illinois' first fumble recovery TD since Ahmari Hayes (54 yards) at Ohio State, 11/18/2017.— Illini Stats & Notes (@IlliniStats) October 5, 2019
Also, Devon Witherspoon made his first-career start.
Devon Witherspoon adds his name to this list.— Illini Stats & Notes (@IlliniStats) October 5, 2019
True Freshmen DB/S Starters in Illinois History pic.twitter.com/i0vW0VRoB7
Illinois returns home now for the gauntlet of the season, starting next Saturday on national television against Michigan.
It’s finally going to be Oct. 12, 2019.
That game will be followed by No. 8 Wisconsin one week later.