The Gophers had a hard time learning what Jerry Kill was teaching this season. But they aced the final.
Minnesota held an opponent to single digits for the first time in three years, got a near-record rushing performance from its learning-more-every-day quarterback, and headed into an important offseason on a high note for the second straight season. The Gophers dominated Illinois, 27-7, and helped Kill avoid his first 10-loss season in a decade.
Minnesota finishes Kill's first season at 3-9 overall and 2-6 in the Big Ten, a year so similar to Tim Brewster's final year here that the victories came against the same teams -- Iowa and Illinois -- in both seasons.
The Illini, meanwhile, were shut out in the first half for the fifth time in six games, and close their season 6-6 and 2-6. Coach Ron Zook, who led the Illini to its first 6-0 start since 1950, is expected to be fired next week after their six-game losing streak.
MarQueis Gray rushed for 167 yards, just four short of his own school record for rushing yards by a quarterback. He reached the end zone twice, threw for another touchdown, and helped the Gophers secure their first double-digit victory since 2009.
Illinois' offense was virtually non-existant. The Illini managed only 160 yards, and just 18 before halftime. They punted away five of their first six possessions without ever picking up a first down, and their sixth possession ended with quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase's fumble, recovered by the Gophers just 16 yards from the end zone.
Gray needed only one play to turn that into points, cutting inside on a run to the right and breaking a tackle as he romped into the end zone, giving Minnesota a 7-0 lead in the second quarter.
The next score took awhile longer, but the Gophers traveled 46 yards for another touchdown. Gray rolled right as though to run again, then lofted a soft pass to a sliding John Rabe for the score, giving Minnesota a 14-0 lead -- its largest lead of the season.
Field goals of 43 and a career-high 51 yards by Jordan Wettstein in the final 80 seconds before halftime increased the lead to 20-0, and the Gophers were never seriously challenged after that.