FINAL: Minnesota 32, Illinois 23
Minnesota 24, Illinois 23, 4:46 left 4Q
Another big stop for the Illini defense, which has allowed just 34 yards this half. Time to shine, Wes Lunt.
Minnesota 24, Illinois 23; 6:56 left 4Q
Illinois drives the ball to the Minnesota 18 but has to settle for a field goal. Story of the season. Lots of points left on the board by not being able to punch it in the end zone.
Minnesota 24, Illinois 20; 11:07 left 4Q
Another stop for the Illini defense, which is playing better in the second half. Illinois takes over at their own 43 after a bad Minnesota punt. It's winning time for Lunt and Cubit.
Minnesota 24, Illinois 20; 14:06 left 4Q
Not what Illinois needed following a good start to the drive. A turnover on downs after Lunt's pass went incomplete on 4th and 8 from the 35.
END 3Q: Minnesota 24, Illinois 20
A big stop by the defense and the Illini have the ball heaidng into the fourth quarter with the chance to take the lead already with the ball at the Minnesota 37. The Illini are moving the ball (338 yards to Minnesota's 234) and the defense is starting to get some stops. The Illini just have to finish drives in the end zone.
Minnesota 24, Illinois 20; 6:14 left 3Q
Minnesota gave Illinois four points last drive, and Illinois handed them three right back following a Minnesota kick return inside the Illinois 35. The defense came up big, holding Minnesota to a field goal. But those points are precious.
Minnesota 21, Illinois 20; 8:15 left 3Q
Cubit likes to commit to the run on certain drives. That one was it. Illinois ran for 63 yards on a 14-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that covered 6 minutes, 45 seconds. Kendrick Foster has given Illinois the tough-yardage runner they need. He's not fast, nor tall. But he has strong legs and churns extra yards after contact. He has 34 yards on six carries. He entered the game with 22 career yards, all this year.
But the Illini finished the drive -- prolonged by a Minnesota offsides on Taylor Zalewski's field goal -- on a touchdown pass, Andrew Davis' first catch since the North Carolina game in Week 3.
HALF: Minnesota 21, Illinois 13
Total yards: ILL 207, MIN 233
Rushing yards: ILL 31, MIN 156
Yards per play: ILL 6.7, MIN 6.0
First downs: ILL 11, MIN 12
Third downs: ILL 3-6, MIN 6-8
Time of possession: ILL 15:35, MIN 14:25
Redzone: ILL 2-2, MIN 3-3
Turnovers: ILL 1, MIN 1
Wes Lunt, ILL: 18-22, 174 yards, 1 TD
Malik Turner, ILL: 5 catches, 80 yards, 1 TD
Josh Ferguson, ILL: nine touches, 60 yards
Mitch Leidner, MIN: 11-17, 77 yards, 1 TD; 9 carries, 56 yards
Shannon Brooks, MIN: 9 carries, 82 yards, 2 TDs
KJ Maye, MIN: 4 catches, 36 yards
Minnesota 14, Illinois 13; 3:39 left 2Q
Illinois' defense got a much-needed turnover (fumble recovery) following a terrible punt by Ryan Frain, which set up the Gophers at the Illinois 32. ANother good drive for Illinois but it stalled in Minnesota territory. But Illini kicker Taylor Zalewski has been pretty good lately. He made a 44-yarder and is 9 for his last 11 -- and 15-for-22 for the season.
Minnesota 14, Illinois 10; 9:37 left 2Q
The Illini defense is getting run over, specifically by the zone-read option. Shannon Brooks has 73 yards on six carries, and Minnesota has 137 yards on 14 carries -- compared to 20 yards on eight passes. Minnesota OC Matt Limegrover shouldn't pass until Illinois proves it can stop Leidner and company's legs.
Illinois 10, Minnesota 7; 12:23 left 2Q
Wes Lunt is having his best game since Iowa. He's 14-for-16 for 143 yards and two touchdowns. It took a heck of a pass break up by KiAnte Hardin to stop Lunt from hitting Ferguson for a touchdown. Taylor Zalewski hit the 23-yard field goal to give Illinois the lead.
Illini sophomore receiver Malik Turner is showing why Illini coaches are so high on his ability and sometimes frustrated with his inconsistency. He has four catches for 72 yards already today (his career high is 84, vs. La Tech last year in the bowl game). He's big, physical and a heck of an athlete. He'sthrown off a defender and spin-moved past a defender already today for big gains. The emergence of Turner and Cain may open up some space for Geronimo Allison, who has been clamped down recently.
Illinois 7, Minnesota 7, 1:00 left 1Q
Heck of a response by Minnesota, which spread Illinois out and ran the zone-read option every play during that series -- 6 plays, 73 yards, all on the ground. Carroll Phillips made a few eye violations on that drive, struggling to keep contain. Minnesota is testing the inexperienced DE.
Illinois 7, Minnesota 0, 3:41 left 1Q
Bill Cubit wants to keep Josh Ferguson fresh and is using Henry Enyenihi and -- surprisingly -- Kendrick Foster early. Enyenihi had two touches for eight yards and Foster had two carries for 17 yards on that 11-play, 77-yard drive. Lunt is 9-for-10 for 84 yards early, and his one incompletion was a dropped pass by Malik Turner, who caught the 13-yard touchdown pass. Cubit used the jumbo package with Pat Flavin as a sixth offensive lineman, and it worked well. Great drive, great start.
Minnesota 0, Illinois 0; 11:27 left 1Q
A great offensive start by Illinois -- Ferguson 16-yard rush, Ferguson 12-yard reception on Geronimo Allison catch across midfield -- is negated by Allison's fumble. Illinois just can't afford those kind of miscues on the road.
Good day to be on the north side of TCF Bank Stadium. It's sun-covered. Bad day to be on the south side in the frigid shade.
Not a big crowd on hand. Maybe a quarter full right now. Minnesota had an official attendance of 50,709 forits last home game, a 29-26 loss to Michigan on Oct. 31.
The Gophers have lost four straight -- albeit, they've been competitive during a brutal stretch of the schedule -- need to win their final two games (vs. Illinois and vs. Wisconsin) to reach their fourth straight bowl.
Illinois captains today are Ted Karras, Clayton Fejedelem, Geronimo Allison and Josh Ferguson.
Minnesota will receive the opening kickoff.
20 minutes to kickoff
Most of the Illini skill players are wearing sleeves. Most of the Illini offensive linemen are not wearing sleeves. I think the latter are crazy, and I was an offensive lineman in high school (a small, but cerebral one at 5-foot-9, 180 pounds).
It'd be a heck of an accomplishment for this Illinois team to make a bowl given all the adversity: head coach fired a week before the season, tons of injuries to key players and athletic director fired with three games left.
Speaking of bowls, the New Era Pinstripe Bowl is here. Sign me up for a trip to Yankee Stadium on Dec. 26.
Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman is here, as well, checking out some Illini players in warmups. I keep writing it to make sure everyone knows. Jihad Ward isn't having a huge statistical season but he is rising on NFL boards due to his size, strength, versatility and work ethic. He's a great fit as a 3-4 defensive end but can also play defensive tackle for some 4-3 teams. He could go as high as the second or third round.
Josh Ferguson also is a likely draft pick, though injury troubles may be a concern. Another guy getting a lot of NFL interest: safety Clayton Fejedelem. The former walk-on looks like a future special teams ace. He's elite in run support, though somewhat shaky in pass coverage. Still, NFL teams know they're getting a high-character, hard-working player with physicality, smarts and good speed.
30 minutes to kickoff
It might have shocked some that MInnesota extended Tracy Claeys and dropped the interim label. Not me. This is a hell of a staff, and Jerry Kill always said that continuity with his coaching staff was the reason for success.
Claeys spend the last 21 years as Kill's defensive coordinator. Offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover has been with Kill for 17 years. Tight ends coach Rob Reeves 20 years. Wide receivers coach Brian Anderson, Running backs coach Pat Poore and secondary/special teams coach Jay Sawvel each have been with Kill the past 15 years. Strength coach Eric Klein -- who Kill told me when I covered him at Illinois that Klein was his most important staff member because he spent the most time with the players -- has been with Kill for 22 years.
The staff has a combined 141 years of service under Kill, the most in the nation for one staff under one head coach. They are a well-oiled machine that has set a good foundation here in Minneapolis (three straight bowls, including back-to-back eight-win seasons). They deserved a few more years to see if they can continue that forward momentum.
One hour to kickoff
Snow covers the field in Iowa City. While it's frigid here in Minneapolis, it is sunny and there is no snow in the forecast. Just a high of 28 degrees though.
Media covering Illinois here today is sparse. Of course, Matt Daniels and Bob Asmussen of The News-Gazette are here and Shannon Ryan of the Chicago Tribune just showed up. On the TV side, Matt Wettersten of WCIA is here, as is Noah Newman of WAND. Consume all their stuff. All these guys and gals work hard to give Illini fans great content.
Illinois is wearing all white jerseys. Martin O'Donnell calls it the "stormtrooper look." Nice tie-in to the much-anticipated release of "Star Wars: A Force Awakens." That looks like it's going to be epic. Don't let me down, J.J. Abrams.
I'd like the Illini white pants-white jersey combo better if you topped it off with the orange or blue helmet, but that's just me.
Minnesota is wearing maroon pants and helmets with gold jerseys.
70 minutes to kickoff
According to Ryan Burns of GopherDigest, Minnesota DT Steven Richardson will play today after missing the last two games with a calf injury.
I'd also expect #Gophers DT Steven Richardson to play today. Dependent on how warm he can get his calf, but it's expected he plays.— Ryan Burns (@RyanBurnsMN) November 21, 2015
Richardson is the kind of recruiting miss that gets overlooked. A three-star prospect out of Chicago Mt. Carmel, Beckman's staff did not offer Richardson. They thought he was a bit short for the position (6-foot), even though the staff took a 6-foot DT in this year's class (Kenyon Jackson). I think that may havve been different under Cubit, who has a pretty good relationship with Mt. Carmel coaching legend Frank Lenti Sr.
For today, though, Richardson would give the Gophers a much-needed boost on a front four that has underwhelmed this season. He leads Minnesota's DL with 8.0 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks.
Minnesota has been devastated by injuries this season, especially on defense.
90 minutes to kickoff
Illinois freshman running back Ke'Shawn Vaughn did not travel with the team and will not play today. Vaughn suffered a concussion last week against Ohio State. He went through a non-contact practice on Monday but did not feel well afterward. Obviously, a big loss for Illinois.
But Henry Enyenihi is back after missing two games with a knee sprain. Still, Enyenihi is not nearly as reliable in the passing game, especially in protection, and doesn't have Vaughn's big-play ability. Josh Ferguson will carry the load.
The Illini really could've used Dre Brown or Reggie Corbin this season (both freshmen missed the season with injuries) just to provide depth. Illinois has had its top two running backs available for just two Big Ten games: Nebraska and Purdue. Coincidentelly, those were the two games Illinois topped 100 rushing yards -- even though Ferguson left early in the Nebraska game due to a shoulder injury.
100 minutes until kickoff
Yes, there is a football game this week, even if it didn't get much attention due to the Illinois basketball loss at Providence and Colorado athletic director Rick George publicly announcing he would nto pursue the Illinois athletic job. Read his comments here.
The news came as a bit of a surprise for Illinois, which was focused on George. Will it stop them from continuing their pursuit? I wrote about that on the premium board.
If not George, Illinois may enter a full-blown, national search for an athletic director. So does that mean interim athletic director Paul Kowalczyk likely would make the decision on interim football coach Bill Cubit? Does an interim athletic director help Cubit's candidacy? Kowalczyk said he will evaluate the entire season before making a decision.
But Minnesota's interim athletic director Beth Goetz set an interesting blueprint for Kowalczyk by extending interim coach Tracy Claeys with a three-year contract. There are differences, of course. Claeys and most of the Minnesota staff had served under Jerry Kill, who resigned last month due to health issues, for a decade or two. Minnesota's commitment to Claeys is basically a commitment to a few more years of Kill, to see if Claeys and the staff can continue to build upon the foundation without Kill at the helm.
If Cubit were retained, there likely would be some staff turnover as he tries to build the program more in his vision. But will Illinois want to break all ties with Tim Beckman? Would they really cut ties with Cubit if he won his last two games?
A few things are for sure: the Illinois athletic director position isn't easy to sell right now and an interim athletic director leading a coaching search is not ideal, to say the least.
2 hours until kickoff
Jeremy Werner, Illini Inquirer publisher here, live from Minneapolis.
First thing, it's cold. Like, real cold. I have a thin piece of steel in my left ankle from a dislocation 10 years ago. It only acts up when it's bone-chillingly cold. It's barking right now. It's 17 degrees with a 10 mph wind. It was chilly for the Nebraska and Penn State games, but I don't think it ever fell below 40 degrees. With two passing offenses, we'll see if this has any affect.
Also, this is my first trip to TCF Bank Stadium and it is great. A modern college stadium with great use of maroon and gold throughout, state of the art press box but a classic brick feel on the outside. Well done, Gophers. It looks much better than the ostentatious Vikings stadium, U.S. Bank Stadium, that I passed by on the way over here. The Vikings are playing their games at TCF Bank Stadium this season. It's treating them well. The Vikings are 4-0 at home and lead the NFC North with a 7-2 record. Huge one tomorrow here against the Packers.
Busy day here at Illini Inquirer. I'm obviously covering the football team, which tries to clinch its second straight bowl with its second straight win over the Gophers.
Take a peak at my preview, keys and prediction for today's game here.
Tonight, Derek Piper will cover Illinois basketball, which tries to bounce back from a gut-punching 60-59 loss at Providence, with a 7:30 p.m. tipoff against Chattanooga (2-0). As I wrote, those are the kind of losses that have haunted John Groce and the Illini (1-2) in March. Still, hard to be really angry at anyone in that game. Illinois played its heart out -- especially Malcolm Hill, Michael Finke and Jalen Coleman-Lands -- and had the opportunity to win. The final three shots just didn't fall. The Illini need a lot more from Leron Black and Mike Thorne Jr. though.
Take a peak at Derek's basketball preview. The Mocs aren't going to be a pushover.