Gophers FB: Two To Count On

While the Gophers' game plan changes from week to week, they are starting to find two players they can consistently rely on.

The Gophers were ready to punish somebody after losing back-to-back games to Michigan and Minnesota. The lowly Fighting Illini turned out to be more than willing victims.

Minnesota used its powerful running attack to take the heart out of Illinois. Freshman Laurence Maroney had a sensational game with 179 yards and two touchdowns, while senior Marion Barber III carried 24 times for 129 yards. The speed of the Minnesota backs was just too much for the poor-tackling Illini to handle.

Minnesota jumped to 17-0 lead early in the second quarter after Maroney scored on a 6-yard run and Aaron Hosack scored on an 80-yard TD pass from Asad Abdul-Khaliq. In between those scores, Rhys Lloyd connected on a 31-yard field goal.

The Illini fought back and cut the deficit to 10 points midway through the second quarter on a 4-yard TD reception by Carey Davis, and Illinois had a chance to cut the deficit to three late in the first half when they drove to the Minnesota 10. However, Justin Isom intercepted Dustin Ward's pass and the Gophers went into the locker room with their 10-point lead.

The Gophers scored on their first possession of the third quarter to put the game out of Illinois' reach. Head coach Glen Mason thought Isom's pick turned the game around.

"I thought it was critical because momentum plays such a big factor," Mason said. "If they can put seven points on there, it's a whole different ballgame."

With the 36-10 win, Minnesota can breathe easily again as it prepares for what should be another win against Indiana this week.

GAME BALL GOES TO: RB Laurence Maroney — The Gophers have a stable of fine running backs, but Maroney need not take a back seat to any of them. The freshman from St. Louis put on a great show in what amounted to a homecoming by running for 179 yards and two scores at Illinois. He is extremely quick into and out of his cuts and has the ability to explode into the second level once he gets past the initial wave of tacklers.

KEEP YOUR EYE ON: QB Asad Abdul Khaliq — Another stellar performance from what may be the most underrated player in the Big Ten. Abdul-Khaliq completed 12-of-15 passes for 237 yards with three TDs and no interceptions. The Gophers run the ball exceptionally well, but Abdul-Khaliq can make all the throws — especially the deep one.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We clicked on all cylinders and made some plays. Sometimes our tailbacks are running so good that you just can't stop giving them the ball." — Minnesota QB Asad Abdul-Khaliq on the Gophers' outstanding running game.

LOOKING GOOD: The Gophers still have a chance to have a superb season as they put their two-game losing streak in the rear-view mirror. They should be able to handle Indiana and if they can split their final two games (Wisconsin, at Iowa), they would finish with a very nice 9-3 record.

STILL NEEDS SOME WORK: The Gophers averaged 33.8 yards on four punts. Special teams play have been vital in the Big Ten this season and has been a calling card for Minnesota in previous years, but was a non-factor against Illinois.

INJURY IMPACT: No new injuries were reported.

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