Gophers get by Illini for Kill's first Big Ten road victory; bowl eligible

  • Article by: PHIL MILLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 11, 2012 - 9:17 AM

The Gophers' first postseason bid in three years offers tangible evidence of improvement.

CHAMPAIGN, ILL. - Too bad there's no handing-out-roses or tossing-oranges tradition around the Meineke Car Care Bowl, or some way to invoke the hallowed history of the Heart of Dallas Bowl. If there was, the Gophers definitely would have been juggling car parts or wearing cowboy hats Saturday, because there was no missing the excitement in their voices after their 17-3 victory over Illinois.

"It's unbelievable," freshman quarterback Philip Nelson said. "We've been talking about this all year long."

No, it's not going to be Pasadena. But the Gophers are going to a bowl game, and for a team that for the past couple of years has sometimes performed as all-around dreadfully as -- well, as the Illini did Saturday, for instance -- the destination isn't the point. It's the milestone that matters.

"It shows that we're getting better," said tailback Donnell Kirkwood, whose 152 yards and two touchdowns provided all the offense the Gophers needed. Minnesota's sixth victory -- as many as they have recorded in the past two seasons combined -- is proof of his point. So was the way Kirkwood and his teammates dismantled the Illini, keeping them out of the end zone, making a handful of big offensive plays when necessary, and avoiding the critical errors that have dogged them during the Big Ten season.

"We played old-fashioned football," said Gophers coach Jerry Kill, and their reward is one that also seems out of the distant past, too: an invitation to a bowl game, their first since 2009. The Gophers won't know for two more weeks where their holiday destination will be, but Houston (for the Meineke) and Dallas, which own the sixth and seventh pick of Big Ten qualifiers, appear likeliest.

The Gophers might actually prefer playing it in Illinois' Memorial Stadium, where Minnesota has now won four consecutive visits.

This one doubled as Kill's first Big Ten road victory, after six consecutive losses, and the tone for it was set by a goal-line stand on Illinois' very first possession. The Illini marched 89 yards and had two shots at the end zone from the 1, but the Gophers stuffed tailback Donovonn Young on the first try and quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase on the second.

"We've got to come off the football and bloody some mouths and get us a yard when we need a yard," grumbled Tim Beckman, who has lost seven consecutive games in his first season at Illinois. "This is college football -- come off the football and get the yard."

Instead, Illinois kicked the field goal -- and never really threatened again.

"Our guys up front, they played with tremendous low pad level and our linebackers came over the top. The safeties got in the right gaps," Kill said. "We won the war up front."

"That was huge," said defensive end D.L. Wilhite, who moved into a tie for the Big Ten sacks lead (with 7 1/2) by taking down Scheelhaase to force a second-quarter punt. "They could have easily won themselves some momentum if they had been able to punch it in."

With no such momentum, Illinois' next nine possessions resulted in six punts, two lost fumbles and a turnover on downs. Forget the end zone -- the Illini, who became the first Gophers opponent to fail to score a touchdown since Purdue in a 17-6 Minnesota victory in 2008, didn't even reach the red zone again until five seconds remained in the game.

Meanwhile, the Gophers figured out early on that their passing game wasn't going to be much help. But Kill and his staff had an answer.

"Their secondary did some unique things that made it difficult to throw. At halftime, we discussed what we needed to do because they were bringing it from everywhere," Kill said. "We said, 'We're going to run the power and outside zone, try to protect Philip as much as we can, and get the ball to the back."

Kirkwood, who now has three 100-yard games this season, and Rodrick Williams, who rolled up 55 yards in 10 carries, took it from there. Kirkwood's longest run was a 38-yard burst along the left sideline in the second quarter.

But his most important run, late in the third quarter, was far shorter. As the center point of the Gophers' three-back "diamond" rushing formation, Kirkwood took a handoff and followed fullback Mike Henry through a small hole in the Illinois line, easily stepping 3 yards into the end zone.

"Big Mike Henry, that's my big fullback. It worked. Power football, it worked," said Kirkwood, who later put the game away with a 12-yard touchdown run with 1:34 to play. "The [offensive] lineman were preaching with Coach [Matt] Limegrover: 'We want power, we want power.' And he trusted them."

  • related content

  • Video: Highlights: Gophers get bowl eligible

    Sunday November 11, 2012

    Minnesota defeated Illinois17-3. The Gophers became bowl eligible for the first time since 2009 with the win. Donnell Kirkwood...

  • Big Ten bowl picture

    Saturday November 10, 2012

    With two weeks left in the regular season, the Big Ten bowl picture is starting to come into focus. A look at how it might shake out:

  • Photo gallery: Minnesota 17, Illinois 3

    Saturday November 10, 2012

    A tight game early went the Gophers' way late with a clutch turnover and a dagger TD run by...

  • Chart: Riding Kirkwood's legs to victory

    Saturday November 10, 2012

    Donnell Kirkwood has gained at least 70 yards rushing seven times this season, including all six Gophers victories:

  • Chart: Gophers are finally going bowling again

    Saturday November 10, 2012

    The Gophers are bowl-eligible for the first time since 2009. Here is a look back at the past six seasons in which they played in a bowl game:

  • Bowl options? U lined up for a Houston holiday

    Sunday November 11, 2012

    The Meineke Car Care Bowl on Dec. 28 appears to be the front-runner as the postseason destination for the Gophers.

  • Aggressiveness by U on the road gets rewarded

    Saturday November 10, 2012

    Jerry Kill had never won a Big Ten road game before, and he was intent upon changing that Saturday. So he displayed a what-the-heck willingness to take a few risks.

  • Minnesota running back Donnell Kirkwood (20) runs the ball into the en...

  • GOPHERS 17, ILLINOIS 3

    Up next: 2:30 p.m. Saturday at No. 18 Nebraska • TV: BTN (100.3-FM)
  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Tennessee 13 FINAL
Jacksonville 21
Philadelphia 12/20/14 3:30 PM
Washington
San Diego 12/20/14 7:25 PM
San Francisco
Minnesota 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Miami
Baltimore 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Houston
Detroit 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Chicago
Cleveland 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Carolina
Atlanta 12/21/14 12:00 PM
New Orleans
Green Bay 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Kansas City 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Pittsburgh
New England 12/21/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
NY Giants 12/21/14 3:05 PM
St. Louis
Buffalo 12/21/14 3:25 PM
Oakland
Indianapolis 12/21/14 3:25 PM
Dallas
Seattle 12/21/14 7:30 PM
Arizona
Denver 12/22/14 7:30 PM
Cincinnati
Utah 6:00 PM
Orlando
Charlotte 6:00 PM
Philadelphia
Brooklyn 6:30 PM
Cleveland
Washington 6:30 PM
Miami
Minnesota 6:30 PM
Boston
Toronto 6:30 PM
Detroit
Chicago 7:00 PM
Memphis
Portland 7:00 PM
San Antonio
LA Clippers 8:00 PM
Denver
Oklahoma City 9:30 PM
LA Lakers
Tampa Bay 6:00 PM
New Jersey
Anaheim 6:30 PM
Ottawa
NY Islanders 6:30 PM
Detroit
Boston 7:00 PM
Winnipeg
Dallas 8:00 PM
Calgary
Wilberforce 12:30 PM
Youngstown St
Jackson State 1:00 PM
Tulane
Siena 5:00 PM
Radford
Stillman 6:00 PM
Alabama
Case Western Reserve 6:00 PM
Bucknell
Niagara 6:00 PM
Buffalo
SD Christian 6:00 PM
UC Santa Barbara
Concordia (MI) 6:00 PM
Central Mich
Northern Ill 6:00 PM
Dartmouth
North Florida 6:00 PM
Florida A&M
Hiwassee 6:00 PM
Gardner-Webb
Tennessee St 6:00 PM
Hampton
NC A&T 6:00 PM
Kent State
Central Penn College 6:00 PM
Liberty
Bethune-Cookman 6:00 PM
Mercer
Eastern Ky 6:00 PM
Miami-Florida
Northern Ky 6:00 PM
Morehead State
Northern Ariz 6:00 PM
Norfolk State
MD-Eastern Shore 6:00 PM
Old Dominion
St Marys-CA 6:00 PM
St Johns
Clemson 6:00 PM
South Carolina
Tenn Tech 6:00 PM
Tennessee
Washington-MD 6:00 PM
William & Mary
Furman 6:30 PM
Fla Gulf Coast
South Dakota St 6:30 PM
CS-Bakersfield
Milligan 7:00 PM
Lamar
LSU-Alexandria 7:00 PM
ULM
Southern Utah 7:00 PM
Loyola-Chicago
Chattanooga 7:00 PM
Middle Tennessee
Seattle 7:00 PM
Minnesota
Lipscomb 7:00 PM
Princeton
Winthrop 7:00 PM
SE Louisiana
Dickinson State 7:00 PM
North Dakota
New Orleans 7:05 PM
Southern Ill
TX-Pan American 8:00 PM
Creighton
Colorado State 8:00 PM
Denver
Alabama A&M 8:00 PM
Marquette
Ark-Pine Bluff 8:00 PM
Texas Tech
Eastern Wash 9:00 PM
California
Idaho State 9:05 PM
Utah State
Arizona 10:00 PM
Texas-El Paso
Hawaii 10:59 PM
Chaminade
Nevada 12/20/14 10:00 AM
Louisiana
Utah State 12/20/14 1:20 PM
Texas-El Paso
(23) Utah 12/20/14 2:30 PM
Colorado State
Western Mich 12/20/14 4:45 PM
Air Force
South Alabama 12/20/14 8:15 PM
Bowling Green
BYU 12/22/14 1:00 PM
Memphis
Marshall 12/23/14 5:00 PM
Northern Ill
Navy 12/23/14 8:30 PM
San Diego St
Central Mich 12/24/14 11:00 AM
Western Ky
Fresno State 12/24/14 7:00 PM
Rice
Ohio Valley 33 FINAL
Youngstown St 84
East Tenn St 48 FINAL
UNC-Wilmington 61
Cal-Irvine 32 2nd Half 14:57
Purdue 40
Campbell 16 1st Half 11:26
Stetson 19
Jacksonville St 1:00 PM
Charleston Southern
Louisiana 1:00 PM
Alcorn State
Denver 1:30 PM
Wright State
Texas State 2:00 PM
Bethune-Cookman
Blue Mountain 2:00 PM
Central Arkansas
Albany 3:00 PM
Pepperdine
TX-San Antonio 3:00 PM
Houston
Yale 3:30 PM
Bucknell
Northern Colorado 3:30 PM
Fla Gulf Coast
Belmont 4:00 PM
Mercer
Massachusetts 4:00 PM
Georgia State
George Mason 4:05 PM
Winthrop
Portland State 4:30 PM
Princeton
UCLA 5:00 PM
Samford
Mobile 5:00 PM
Alabama State
Nicholls 5:30 PM
Texas Tech
Toledo 5:30 PM
Nevada
UMass Lowell 5:30 PM
(13) Duke
St Marys-CA 6:00 PM
Virginia
McNeese State 6:00 PM
Rice
McMurry 6:00 PM
Houston Baptist
NJIT 6:00 PM
Seton Hall
(6) North Carolina 6:00 PM
Maine
Lafayette 6:00 PM
Stony Brook
Siena 6:00 PM
Binghamton
Longwood 6:00 PM
Clemson
Savannah State 6:00 PM
Florida State
(19) Syracuse 6:00 PM
(9) Baylor
Buffalo 6:00 PM
Manhattan
Ohio U 6:00 PM
La Salle
Canisius 6:00 PM
Michigan
Davidson 6:00 PM
NC State
Northern Ky 6:00 PM
Delaware
Saint Louis 6:30 PM
Austin Peay
(25) DePaul 6:30 PM
(2) Connecticut
Florida Atlantic 7:00 PM
Long Beach St
Miami-Florida 7:00 PM
Tulane
Miss Valley St 7:00 PM
Memphis
Ark-Pine Bluff 7:00 PM
UAB
Bowling Green 7:05 PM
Illinois State
Arkansas State 7:05 PM
Missouri State
ULM 7:05 PM
Wichita State
(16) Oregon State 8:00 PM
Southern Ill
Utah Valley U 8:30 PM
Montana
Pacific 9:00 PM
New Mexico St
No Dakota State 9:00 PM
Cal State Fullerton
Utah State 9:00 PM
Sacramento St
Bethesda (CA) 9:00 PM
Fresno State
LSU 9:30 PM
UC Santa Barbara
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

<
Gophers Football Time W L Score
2014 season     
Aug 28 - vs. E. Illinois 6 pmX42-20
Sep 6 - vs. M. Tennessee St. 2:30 pmX35-24
Sep 13 - at TCU 3 pmX30-7
Sep 20 - vs. San Jose St. 3 p.m.X24-7
Sep 27 - at Michigan 2:30 pmX30-14
Oct 11 - vs. Northwestern 11 amX24-17
Oct 18 - vs. Purdue 11 amX39-38
Oct 25 - at Illinois 11 amX28-24
Nov 8 - vs. Iowa 11 amX51-14
Nov 15 - vs. Ohio State 11 amX31-24
Nov 22 - at Nebraska 11 amX28-24
Nov 29 - at Wisconsin 2:30 pmX34-24
Jan 1 - vs. Missouri noon

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: How much do you like the Gophers going to the Citrus Bowl?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close