Illinois (4-4, 1-3 Big Ten) may want to wear their gray alternate uniforms more often after today. The Illini rallied in the second half after it appeared the game had slipped away from them to hand Minnesota (6-2, 3-1 Big Ten) its first loss in conference play this season. V’Angelo Bentley returned a Minnesota fumble 12 yards for a fourth-quarter touchdown to give Illinois a 28-24 lead. It proved to be the game-winning score.
Minnesota outscored Illinois 21-7 in the third quarter to take a 24-21 lead on the Illini, but the Gophers proved incapable of holding on to the narrow lead. After taking its first lead late in the third quarter, Minnesota missed a field goal, had a lost fumble returned for a touchdown, punted, and lost another fumble on their following offensive drive sin the fourth quarter. All of this while forcing Illinois to punt on five straight possessions in the second half.
The final punt from Illinois came in the final seconds, which appeared to end with time running off the clock on the return. This led to a celebration by the Illini on the field, but the Big Ten refs threw a flag for defensive holding on the return. This gave Minnesota one untimed down to run a play, but it resulted in a deep pass falling out of play to end the game.
Minnesota let this one get away from them. The Gophers out-gained Illinois in total offensive yards, 411-263. The Gophers had three turnovers, with the one being returned for a touchdown. It took far too long for Minnesota to get the running game going with David Cobb not hitting his stride until it may have been too late. Cobb rushed for 118 yards and two touchdowns, but was stymied for much of the game before getting going. Quarterback Mitch LeidnerL was not particularly sharp either, completing just 12 of his 30 pass attempts for 240 yards and a touchdown and interception.
With the loss, Minnesota drops into a first-place tie with Nebraska in the Big Ten West with identical 3-1 conference records. Minnesota will play at Nebraska on November 22. Minnesota is already eligible for postseason play, which is good. The last leg of the season could be brutal for Minnesota, and a loss to Illinois was not necessarily in the plans.
Illinois is two wins shy of clinching postseason eligibility as well. Next week Illinois plays at Ohio State.