MINNEAPOLIS - On the legs of true freshman running back Shannon Brooks, the Gophers (5-6) were able to put away the Illinois Fighting Illini (5-6) away and moved one step closer to bowl eligibility after the win at home this afternoon. Brooks rushed for 174 yards and three rushing touchdowns, including a 75 yard scamper on Minnesota's final drive to extend the Gophers lead to seven with under two minutes to play. Gophers head coach Tracy Claeys decided to go for two and Minnesota's lead went to two scores with less than 90 seconds to play.
"All the energy in there, that’s why you coach. You go in there and those kids win, it’s great," Gophers head coach Tracy Claeys said to the media after the game. "On the other hand, the last three weeks, it was painful. They’ve competed so hard and come up short so it was good to keep battling and they didn’t give up and hung in there. Next thing you know we are in a position to win the ball game and then make the plays we need. Very proud of them. We needed a win to keep our energy.”
Another true freshmen that came to play today was linebacker / rush defensive end Julian Huff.
"No question, when we got Julian in there we figured they would do the drop back passing game. He did a nice move on the tackle and got around him and then the quarterback, rather than throw it away, tried to escape and JuJu is a pretty good athlete," Tracy Claeys said about his true freshman Julian Huff making plays late in the 4th quarter. "He’s strong. So when he turned out there he just added more yardage and the sack was enough so they couldn’t recover off of it. Big momentum changer there, but it’s good that that came from the defense because we haven’t had many of those plays this month."
Minnesota will enjoy this victory for the night, but they know there's a very big game next week.
"The win will help us with the energy, but here’s the thing with the Axe: Even with Coach Kill we put an awful lot of work into it and that’s the one trophy he didn’t get," Claeys said about #AxeWeek next Saturday. "We are going to put as much into this as we can because what a great way to reward him if we could get that Axe."
Players of the game
- Duke McGhee - The redshirt sophomore played the most snaps of his career in the Gophers victory today and made his presence known. The hard-hitting safety lead Minnesota in tackles with 12, had two passes broken up and a tackle for loss. McGhee held his own in the open field on numerous plays and made his impact felt.
- Shannon Brooks - Carried the Gophers to victory after a 174 yard, three touchdown performance. Brooks' physical running style paid dividends in this cold climate for Minnesota.
- KiAnte Hardin - Another true freshmen that showed up big today as Hardin totaled 165 kickoff return yards and finished with five total tackles and a pass broken up. Hardin was huge on special teams in giving the Gophers great field position, plus batted the ball away in the end zone to prevent points, plus tipped the ball to Antonio Johnson for an interception.
- Julian Huff - Huff was Minnesota's pass rush today and maybe had the play of the game with his sack 2nd and 10 late in the 4th quarter when Illinois was driving, forcing a 3rd and long. Huff finished the game with three tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks and a fumble recovery.
News and Notes
- Saturday’s game was the first for Minnesota against an unranked opponent since Oct. 17 (Nebraska). Of Minnesota’s past 15 games, nine were against ranked opponents. Minnesota is now 5-1 against unranked opponents this season.
- Head coach Tracy Claeys picked up his first official win as the lead man for the Gophers. He led the team to a 4-3 mark as the acting head coach during 2013.
- Minnesota’s 15-play scoring drive, capped by a one-yard touchdown reception by freshman wide receiver Rashad Still with five seconds left in the first half, tied for the longest scoring drive by the Gophers this season. Minnesota’s other 15-play scoring drive came at Colorado State that ended with a 35-yard field goal from Ryan Santoso.
- The Gophers rushed the ball 32 times for 255 net yards for a season-best average of 8.0 yards per attempt.
- Minnesota’s offensive line did not allow a sack, which is the first time this season they have done that.
- QB Mitch Leidner broke the program record for completions by a junior signal caller after completing 15 passes on the day. He now has 202 completions on the year, snapping the previous mark held by Cory Sauter (200) in 1996.
- Leidner set a new career mark with a 33-yard rush in the first quarter that set up a 5-yard touchdown run by first-year RB Shannon Brooks. For the game, Leidner finished with 10 rushes for 64 yards.
- Brooks tied a career-high with a pair of touchdowns in the first half, and added a career-best third with his game-clinching and career-long 75-yard TD late in the fourth quarter. He now has 89 carries for 554 yards and six touchdowns against opponents in the Big Ten Conference.
- Brooks finished the game with 17 rushes for 174 yards, narrowly missing his career-best total of 176 yards at Purdue. In that game at Purdue, Brooks had a 71-yard TD run, which had been his longest until going 75 yards for a score this afternoon.
- KiAnte Hardin entered today’s game having never returned a kickoff, but he finished the game with six kick returns for 165 yards (27.5 yards per return), including a 60-yarder that led to a field goal on Minnesota’s first drive of the second half. Minnesota’s longest kickoff return this season had been 29 yards by Jalen Myrick at Colorado State.
- Sophomore S Duke McGhee set a career-high with 12 tackles (nine solo). His previous high was four at Purdue earlier this year.
- McGhee became the 18th player on the Gophers defense to break up a pass this season. That mark ties Boise State and trails only Alabama, Marshall and Mississippi State, which all entered the weekend with 19 players with pass breakups.
By the numbers
343 - Yards of total offense for Minnesota
255 - Rushing yards on the day for the #Gophers.
10.2 - Yards per carry for Shannon Brooks on 17 carries
8.0 - yards per carry on 32 total carries for the Gophers
3 - Second half turnovers by the Fighting Illini
7 - tackles for loss by the Gopher defenders
Minnesota now has their biggest game of the year with Wisconsin (8-2) coming into TCF Bank Stadium to end of the 2015 regular season. The Gophers (5-6) try to get to bowl eligibility with their sixth win and get the Axe for the first time since 2003.