Illini Searching for Answers after Gopher Win

The Gophers' 27-20 win over Illinois has the Illini searching for answers for how they lost the game.

Ron Zook woke up, in his words, "very, very early" Sunday morning to review the tape of Illinois' stunning 27-20 home loss to Minnesota on Saturday.

He didn't see a lack of effort on his team's part. As for lack of execution? Oh, there was a ton of that.

"Any time you have 550 yards of offense and you hold a pretty good offense to about 300 yards, you should win," Zook said. "But we didn't. Now we've got to understand why we didn't."

Here are a few of the reasons:

  • With the Illini trailing just 7-3 at the outset of the second half, running back Dan Dufrene lost a fumble inside Illinois' 10-yard line. Minnesota's offense converted that mistake into a touchdown.

  • With the Illini trailing 20-13 midway through the fourth quarter, quarterback Juice Williams was hit by defensive end Willie VanDeSteeg and lost a fumble at Illinois' 9-yard line that Minnesota ran in for a score.

  • With the Illini trailing 27-20 in the waning moments and inside Minnesota's 30-yard line, Williams was hit again by VanDeSteeg, and the ball became a clinching interception.

  • VanDeSteeg, a senior, exploited true freshman right tackle Jeff Allen again and again. Illinois didn't necessarily expect that, as Allen had fared well in his first two starts against Penn State's and Michigan's strong defensive lines.

  • Illinois' special teams weren't exactly special. Among other things, kickoff specialist Michael Cklamovski booted his first two kickoffs out of bounds to set up Minnesota at the 40 ... and Arrelious Benn didn't know he could down a muffed kickoff in the end zone for a touchback. Instead, he tried to bring one out and got caught at Illinois' 2-yard line.

    Minnesota 27, Illinois 20: Illinois lost two fumbles inside its own 10-yard line that turned into Minnesota touchdowns, as former Illini All-Big Ten tight end Tim Brewster earned the biggest win of his short head-coaching career during his alma mater's homecoming. For the second week in a row, Illini QB Juice Williams set a single-game stadium record for total yards. He threw for 462 and rushed for 41 for a career-high 503 total yards.


  • WR Arrelious Benn set a personal-best for reception yardage for the third week in a row. The sophomore delivered career highs in catches (12) and yards (181) in perhaps the best day for an Illini wideout since College Football Hall of Famer David Williams played in the mid-1980s.

  • MLB Brit Miller entered the day as the national leader in tackles for loss with 11.5 in 5 games. He managed just one against Minnesota as he registered a 7-yard sack of Adam Weber in the first quarter. Miller, also the Big Ten's leader in tackles, managed four solos and four assists.

    GAME BALL GOES TO: QB Juice Williams — Though he lost a fumble for a touchdown and also threw a late interception when a pass rusher affected his throw, Williams gave the Illini a chance to win with a massive second half. He set a Memorial Stadium record for total yards as he completed 26 of 41 passes for 462 yards and two scores. And, despite taking five sacks, he finished with 41 rushing yards.

    STILL NEEDS WORK: Illinois' turnover issues continue to cost the team in the bottom line. QB Juice Williams lost a fumble inside the 10 that was returned for a touchdown, while RB Dan Dufrene lost a fumble inside the 10 that was quickly turned into a touchdown. The Illini have committed 13 turnovers in six games.

    Not only did Illinois struggle inside its own 20, it struggled inside the opponent's 20. Among other problems, the Illini had third-and-goal from the 1-inch line when they were down 14-6 in the third quarter, and they couldn't punch it in.

    True freshman RT Jeff Allen didn't fare well against Minnesota senior DE Willie VanDeSteeg. The veteran rolled up three sacks working against Allen, who also struggled to pick up blitzes off the edge in his third career start.

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