Leidner gets no love
First play of the game for Minnesota's offense is read option right and it goes for only a few yards, but watch the hit here. Couldn't find a slow-mo version of this play for a GIF, but from watching it back at half speed, Leidner does slide late, but there's 100% helmet to helmet contact, so what makes this any different from the Jonathan Celestin ejection from earlier in the season? Answers we'll never get from B1G refs.
Gophers quarterback Mitch Leidner's consistency over his last few games hasn't been there. In his last three games, Leidner has thrown the ball only 23 on average, hasn't thrown the ball over 20 times in his last two games, has zero passing scores to three interceptions and is only completing 48% of his passes over his last three games.
Mechanically, you can see some breakdowns on this play, in terms of he's flat-footed and doesn't step into the throw, and I do wonder if he's got a shoulder issue that's not out in the public, because in my eyes the velocity on his passes has been down recently. His accuracy is off here with the missed slant, and it's a missed opportunity. Whether it's injury, or mechanically or a combination of the both, Minnesota help Leidner here for the remainder of the season.
Scott Ekpe makes a damn athletic play
Minnesota doesn't do anything to force a turnover, Illinois quarterback Jeff George Jr. bobbles the football off his right knee, which is then kicked by both Ekpe and the Illinois offensive lineman, and watch the athletic play from Big Scott here. He shields off the defender with his left arm and is able to scoop up the ball with his right. Absolutely fantastic play by Ekpe here to give the Gophers great field position.
Brooks dives for pay dirt
I wonder if Gophers OC Jay Johnson watched what Rutgers did against Minnesota in terms of motioning a guy away from the play side, and then pulling guys to the now deficient side of the field, where you'll have numbers in space.
Still motions across and Minnesota goes power left and pulls center Tyler Moore and left guard Jared Weyler. The Gophers left guard is able to turn the outside defender, which opens up Brooks to try and turn the corner and dive for the pylon, and he's successful in doing so, and Minnesota takes the 7-0 lead.
Play design and execution by Illinois
Big fan of the play design here from the Illinois offense. The Fighting Illini put three tight ends on the field with a fullback in the I, and go play action, where George hides the ball behind him for a couple of seconds, but the real magic here is with the two tight ends at the top of the screen. Corner KiAnte Hardin releases with the outside tight end, while the inside one blocks for a "one-mississippi, two" count, before releasing out into the flat. Not sure if that's Damarius Travis' guy, but with Hardin taking the outside defender, someone over the top has other tight end as their responsibility, and doesn't execute, and Illinois gets within the five yard line.
Illinois gets on the board
On the very next play, Illinois goes Wildcat and pulls two defenders to the two wide set and the "quarterback" is able to turn the corner and get six. Linebacker Nick Rallis runs into the wash, Daletavius McGhee is taken out on the crack, Antoine Winfield and Jonathan Celestin get cut, and Illinois gets their first touchdown of the day to tie things at seven.
Gophers attempt to go deep, but no dice
Jay Johnson calls a max protection scheme here as both tight ends and the running back are into block, so eight total for Minnesota, and Illinois rushes five and are able to get to Leidner before he can take a look down field. Dawuane Smoot crosses Vincent Calhoun's face at right guard and Leidner is sacked once he gets to the top of his drop. This was the first example of Minnesota trying to take a shot deep, but the protection didn't hold up on this one.
Missed opportunity to continue the drive
Minnesota's success rate on third and long this season is less than optimal, so for the Gophers to have a great chance to convert and then not execute, hurts. Illinois sits back in zone, and with the two crossing underneath, the corner has to bite on Beebe's route, which opens up Brian Smith between the CB and safety. Leidner's pass (which to note, he steps into) is effected by the wind a bit and gets caught up, but Smith jumps for the ball and sees it clank off his hands. Minnesota is forced to punt.
Another fortunate bounce for Minnesota
On the subsequent punt, Illinois just gives away the ball, again, on a muffed punt and Antoine Winfield is able to jump on it, to give the Gophers another possession inside the red zone.
Two back looks gives the Gophers success
Minensota motions Shannon Brooks across the formation, and then Minnesota goes with a little pulling action of Jared Weyler here. Illinois outside backer (#9) goes with Brooks, which allows Weyler to seal the edge for Smith. Donnell Greene comes down to the Mike linebacker, Calhoun washes down his DT and the back side backer gets caught in the wash. All of this allows Smith to get to the second level untouched, and his puts a move on the safety to walk in for the touchdown.
Minnesota takes the lead back 14-7.
Another Gopher ejected
Minnesota saw their fifth defender of the season ejected because of the Targeting Rule, and again, by definition, this is worth an ejection. McGhee leads with his helmet, not his shoulder and because the Illini wide receiver is bending more than usual to haul in the pass, it's a direct helmet to helmet hit. Malik Turner had to be taken off the field on a stretcher, so prayers are with him for a full recovery.
First quarter score: Minnesota 14, Illinois 7
Brooks is quick to the draw
On a third and long, Jay Johnson calls for the draw play with Shannon Brooks. Both Illinois defensive ends rush up field and are out of the play because of it. Tyler Moore handles the tackle, and Weyler is able to seal a linebacker off to give Brooks a lane to run through. Brooks bounces this inside as he's reading Still's block and Minnesota's able to gain some big yards on third down.
Leidner has to make the perfect throw
Watch the other pass-catchers on this play, along with Rashad Still. Wozniak is smothered across the middle on the beginning of the play, and Brian Smith isn't open on the underneath route. Leidner has to make this throw to the back shoulder to avoid the defensive back coming over top for the PBU, and Still shields his defender and Minnesota gets the completion. Gophers had to work damn hard for this one though.
Wolitarsky can't buy a targeting call
Honestly folks, for as much grief as this staff gets on the targeting calls against the defense, I think the offense would like the benefits that opposing offenses get against Minnesota. Drew Wolitarsky braces of the hit along the sidelines and ends up delivering a blow to the safety here.
Watch the Illinois safety though.
Leads with his head and strikes Wolitarsky directly in the helmet, and there's no flag, or review of this play.
Welcome to the life of a Gopher fan, I guess.
Coughlin is learning
This is exactly what you want to see from your true freshman. Carter Coughlin is at the left defensive end spot, and while he's attempting to stunt toward the middle, he realizes that there's going to be a screen to the opposite side and immediately peels off his route to stay with the running back and gets up getting him for a minimal gain. Coughlin and Kamal Martin have the athletic tools to be a very good linebackers in the Big Ten, but if they keep learning as quickly as they are, watch out here in a few years.