Defense dominates for Illinois in 14-6 win at Minnesota

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Illinois running back Chase Brown (2) carries the ball against Minnesota defensive back Tyler Nubin (27) during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Stacy Bengs)

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Chase Brown rushed 33 times for 150 yards, and the Illinois defense delivered six sacks and two interceptions of Minnesota quarterback Tanner Morgan on the way to a 14-6 victory on Saturday.

Kerby Joseph picked off Morgan at the Illini 45-yard line with 38 seconds left to halt the too-little-too-late rally by the Gophers (6-3, 4-2), whose four-game winning streak that catapulted them into sole possession of first place in the Big Ten West Division was stopped cold.

Morgan scored on a fourth-and-1 bootleg with 4:56 to go after going 7 for 8 for 68 yards on that drive to pull the Gophers within one score.

The Illini (4-6, 3-4) finished the game with seven consecutive punts, except for a kneel-down at the end of each half, but Brown moved the chains with a 7-yard run off left tackle on third-and-4 near midfield around the 3-minute mark. Blake Hayes pooched his last punt to land it at the 2, leaving only 1:12 remaining and no timeouts for Morgan and the Gophers.

After a 38-yard strike to Dylan Wright, Morgan was taken down for an 11-yard sack by Isaiah Gay so hard the Illini linebacker hurt himself on the play.

The damage was done much earlier by the Illinois defense, which constantly pressured Morgan and forced him out of the pocket. Ky Thomas had 16 carries for 60 yards, but the Gophers again failed to find a rhythm with the ball. Morgan was sacked by Owen Carney Jr. on fourth-and-6 at the 22 to end that drive in the third quarter.

Meanwhile, the Illini were beating them at their own game. Brandon Peters attempted a season-low nine passes, but he was as sharp as he needed to be with seven completions for 80 yards and a touchdown to help Illinois keep hope of bowl game eligibility alive.

Illinois played a flawless first quarter, matching Minnesota’s per-game average allowance with 93 rushing yards. Seth Coleman provided the spark by tipping Morgan’s third-down pass at the line, deflecting the ball toward fellow linebacker Tarique Barnes for an interception near midfield to thwart a promising opening possession for the Gophers.

Wide receiver Isaiah Williams scored on a 2-yard jet sweep to finish a strong response to the turnover. Then after forcing a three-and-out, the Illini cruised from their own 9 to reach the end zone again on the first play of the second quarter. With a bootleg rollout to his right, Peters threw to a wide-open tight end Tip Reiman from 15 yards out.

The Illini just sat on their two-touchdown lead after that, and their defense was so relentless they just got away with the play-it-safe game.

The Gophers had a fourth-and-1 run stopped for no gain at the Illinois 22. Later in the first half, Matthew Trickett pulled a 45-yard field goal wide left. Trickett missed a his extra-point try in the fourth quarter, too, as the Gophers fell to 1-18 under coach P.J. Fleck when trailing at halftime. Their only such win was last month at Purdue.

THE TAKEAWAY

Illinois: This wasn’t quite the same as the win at Penn State but an encouraging development nonetheless in the first year under coach Bret Bielema, another sign the Illini can win with the power running and complementary defense he employed in the previous decade at Wisconsin.

Minnesota: The bid for a West Division title wasn’t really damaged, because the Gophers were almost certainly going to have to beat both Iowa and Wisconsin anyway to win it. They still can, if they win out. The problem is this feeble performance by the offense portends doom against the defenses the Hawkeyes and Badgers will present. The Gophers are missing their top four running backs from the start of the season and are short on game-breaking receivers, but with a fifth-year quarterback and a well-seasoned offensive line they expected to be scoring much more than this.

UP NEXT

Illinois has next week off before visiting No. 19 Iowa on Nov. 20. The Illini have lost seven straight games to the Hawkeyes and have not won on the road in the series in six tries since 1999.

Minnesota plays at Iowa next Saturday. The Gophers are 0-4 against the Hawkeyes under Fleck and haven’t won in Iowa City in nine trips there since 1999.

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