Gophers replay Gophers 41, Illinois 14
The Gophers needed a turnaround to their 0-2 start, and they made the U-ie at Illinois on Saturday.
Mohamed Ibrahim led the rush in another dominant game, running for 224 yards on 30 carries. He scored four touchdowns and eclipsed 200 rushing yards in back-to-back games, only the second Gophers player to run for that much yardage in consecutive games.
But different from the losses against Michigan and at Maryland, the passing game also contributed to the team’s success. Quarterback Tanner Morgan went 17-for-27 for 216 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Receiver Rashod Bateman caught the score as part of his 139 yards on 10 catches.
The defense, which had averaged allowing opponents 578 offensive yards per game, tightened up to allow the Illini only 287 total yards.
“The defense was flying around,” linebacker Mariano Sori-Marin said. “We really cleaned up our details this week, and that was the point of emphasis.”
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RB injury: Running back Treyson Potts scored his first career touchdown to open the game Saturday but was carted off the sideline in the second quarter. He appeared back with his team in the fourth quarter with his right foot in a boot. Potts had rushed three times for 49 yards, including a 36-yard gain and his 9-yard score. Fellow redshirt freshman Cam Wiley assumed the No. 2 role, finishing the game with 57 yards on nine carries, including a 17-yard rush. Other absences: tight end Ko Kieft did not play for the second consecutive game, defensive tackle Keonte Schad missed for undisclosed reasons and defensive coordinator Joe Rossi did not call the game after testing positive for COVID-19.
Defense still improving: While the defensive unit was much improved from previous games, it still showed signs of weakness. Illinois has one of the worst offenses in the Big Ten and didn’t prove much of a threat in the air or on the ground. But some Gophers still missed plays, such as cornerback Benjamin St-Juste not being able to bring down an easy interception and Sori-Marin losing a one-on-one battle at the goal line to give up a touchdown. So there is still individual strengthening to do for that unit.
Bateman returns: After Bateman’s quiet start to the season, he looked like a shadow of last year’s Big Ten Receiver of the Year. But he re-debuted at Illinois, scoring his first touchdown of the year and sparking the Gophers passing game early to help return the team to its familiar and threatening rhythm from a strong rush and pass. Pro Football Focus graded Bateman an 88.1, making him the top-ranked Power Five receiver of the week.
Up next: vs. Iowa
6 p.m. Friday, TCF Bank Stadium • FS1 (100.3-FM)
The skinny: Iowa delivered the Gophers their first loss last season, derailing what could have been a perfect record to earn a trip to the Rose Bowl or even the College Football Playoff. Instead, the Gophers dropped 23-19 in Iowa City, extending their losing streak in the series to five games. But the most recent Gophers win from 2014 was at home in Minneapolis, so the Gophers will be eager for rivalry revenge.
Just like the Gophers, the Hawkeyes are 1-2, having endured close losses at Purdue and against Northwestern before drubbing Michigan State 49-7 on Saturday. Iowa’s defense ranks third in the Big Ten, allowing an average of 315 yards and 17.3 points per game. Its offense is more toward the middle, averaging 386 yards per game.
Hawkeyes rusher Tyler Goodson has three touchdowns and 233 yards through three games. Quarterback Spencer Petras is 63-for-116 for 648 yards and a 2-to-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Defensively, linebacker Seth Benson ranks third in the conference averaging 10.5 tackles per game, though he did not play against Michigan State for undisclosed reasons. The team also played without star receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette, arrested Nov. 1 for operating a vehicle while under the influence.