"The biggest thing is, it shows the kids if they hang in there and fight, they have a chance to have some success," Horton told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. "It shows them they can compete."
The Gophers (2-9, 1-6 Big Ten) don't play again until they host Iowa on Nov. 27 in the final game of the season. Although the outcome won't change much record-wise, there will still be a lot to play for.
"Hopefully (the win over Illinois) will springboard us into the last game against Iowa, and then when a new coach comes in, get the guys going in the right direction this offseason," Horton said.
DeLeon Eskridge, whose third touchdown run of the game with 16 seconds remaining gave Minnesota the win over Illinois, had similar thoughts.
"For the people who have gone through this season, it would be easy to say we want the season to be over," he told the Star-Tribune. "To get a win, it helps a lot to see that we're playing for a reason. It'll help us work hard in the offseason."
--Minnesota recorded a season-high three sacks against Illinois. The Gophers went into the game with eight sacks for the season.
--When Minnesota took the lead in the second quarter against Illini, it was the first time the Gophers had been ahead in a game since they led Northwestern in the fourth quarter on Oct. 2, a total of 21 quarters.
--The Gophers' halftime lead against Illinois was the first time they had led at the half since the Northwestern game. Minnesota has been ahead at halftime twice all season.
SEASON SUMMARY: It's tough to find many bright spots. The season started spiraling out of control after a home loss to South Dakota, an FCS team, in the second game and didn't stop until the upset of Illinois last week. In between, the injuries piled up, the inexperience showed, Tim Brewster was fired as coach and the Gophers weren't even competitive most of the time until the second half against Michigan State and the win over Illinois. The nine-game losing streak looked as if it would never end. To their credit, the players have responded to interim coach Jeff Horton.
LOOKING AHEAD:There's only one week left, but a strong performance against Iowa in the season finale would give the seniors something positive to take away in their last game. It would also give the returning players something good to take into the offseason. And it would also be a win over a big rival. The players have given a solid effort the last two weeks, and the same should be expected in the final game. It's also the last chance for a win at home, where the Gophers are 0-6.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It makes all those losses go away. It feels so good to win, it gives us a jumpstart into the next game and also next season." -- Defensive end Anthony Jacobs, to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, on the win over Illinois.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: It's still senior quarterback Adam Weber's team, but having MarQueis Gray take a few snaps definitely gives opponents something extra to prepare for. Gray's passing skills are still raw, but he's a threat to go a long way whenever he touches the ball. Weber directed the game-winning drive against Illinois with several clutch throws. The tandem has given the offense a boost.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The coaching staff knew this side of the ball would be a problem. Thanks to graduations, an injury and a suspension, 11 new starters were on the field when the season began. It's not a surprise the Gophers have allowed 372 points. The only positive is perhaps the tough lessons learned can translate into progress next season.
--LT Ryan Wynn made his first start since the 2008 against the Illini. He replaced redshirt freshman Ed Olson, who missed the game because of an injury.
--OL Dom Alford (knee) returned to play against Illinois. He had meniscus surgery two weeks ago.
--G Matt Carufel (knee) was out against the Illini and might miss the Iowa game.
--TB Donnell Kirkwood's season is over, and he will get a redshirt year. The freshman, who has had hamstring and calf injuries, played in four games and gained 112 yards on 27 carries.
--CB Michael Carter and DT Ra'Shede Hageman are suspended for the remainder of the season to concentrate on academics.
--S Kim Royston has yet to play in a game after breaking both bones in his left leg during spring ball.