Quarterback Mitch Leidner secured 14 valuable seconds for the Gophers to get into the end zone by spiking the ball on first down at the 1-yard line late in the second quarter.
The time-saving play cost the Gophers just one second and left enough time to add to their halftime lead in an eventual 32-23 victory over Illinois on Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium.
The Gophers didn’t make the same time-management mistakes that left them 1 yard shy and a couple of extra seconds short of upsetting Michigan three weeks ago. Saturday’s efficiency was rewarded with a touchdown and 21-13 lead at the half.
“You can see some good improvement there,” Leidner said. “The offense did a good job moving the ball down the field in the two-minute situation there, and when we got down to the [1-yard line] we were able to … use that time management better.”
On third-and-2 from the 4-yard line with 24 seconds left, Leidner ran to the right for 3 yards and a first down. Nine seconds ran off the clock before it was stopped to move the chains. When the officials signaled to restart the clock, Leidner quickly spiked the ball.
The QB was stuffed up the middle for no gain on the next play before the Gophers called timeout with 8 seconds left. Coach Tracy Claeys sent the offense out for one more play, and Leidner found freshman wide receiver Rashad Still in the back of the end zone for a touchdown pass with five seconds on the clock.
“We work a lot on a situation like that and time situations at practice,” Still said. “We’ll work on the no-huddle and fast plays to get into the end zone, so I feel like we executed well.”
The Gophers showed poor time management and execution in the final moments of the 29-26 loss to Michigan on Halloween night. The Gophers got off only four plays in the final 1:17 while converting two first downs. They lost 42 seconds in between a fourth-down conversion and first-down snap, and then 17 seconds ticked off the clock following another first-down conversion to the 1.
“I should have clocked the ball [against Michigan], I said that the last time, and this time we got the opportunity we called a timeout with 8 seconds left,” Claeys said. “We felt like we could get one throw, and if we didn’t get it, we’d kick the field goal.”
“There’s also a big difference for how you handle that at the end of the half to the end of the game, but I thought our guys did a good job.”
Leidner was 8-for-9 passing for 57 yards and rushed for 10 yards on the 15-play, 74-yard drive that took 3:34. A pass interference penalty by Illinois pushed the Gophers into the red zone in the final minute in which they ran six plays.
“Every drive is important, and that was a big one,” said running back Shannon Brooks, who ran for 174 yards and three touchdowns. “That touchdown gave us more motivation coming out into the second half.”