Illinois defeats Minnesota in Big Ten West “Playoff” game

Ok, I got my full PT and a treadmill walk prior to the game, and we added distance to and from the car to get some more miles.

Tracy seemed to like the upgrade to club seats. They have advantages but not sure the extra price is worth it on a game-in, game-out basis. I’ll return to my usual seats next game.

The game itself: Well, this was supposed to be the biggest challenge for the Illini yet, but..I’d say the Iowa game was harder. Yes, I know about the quarterback injury, but the Iowa defense is better than Minnesota’s though the Gopher running game is a LOT better than Iowa’s.

The Illini looked sharp all day; a time consuming drive was capped by a 40 yard pass to our star running back to make it 7-0. An interception stopped the Gophers then later, a drive ended up with a field goal to make it 10-0.

The Gophers then got their only sustained drive of the day, lead by their own star running back; it was now 10-7, but just before the half, the Illini down to the 5 and ended up with a field goal. 13-7 at the half

Second half: spectacular kick return and a horse collar tackle penalty set the Gophers up at the Illini 5, and then a run put them up 14-13, which proved to be their last score of the game.

Afterward…long drive by the Illini, mainly off a long pass to the 5. Then came a sequence of plays: run up the middle was stuffed, then a spectacular fake and bootleg to the left had the Illini quarterback walk into the end zone.

It was only 20-14, but that seemed to deflate the Gophers. Two more field goals..and there was the final score: 26-14.

I have to say that I was deeply impressed. The Illini offense play calling kept the Gophers off balance all day long. Total yards were 472-180, though the kick return skewed that a bit. Passing: Gophers had 38 yards; the Illini pass rush gave the quarterbacks no time to throw or to even look for open receivers.

The Illini had 27 first downs, 6-17 3’rd down conversions, 4-4 4’th down conversions.

I’ve followed them for about a decade, and, simply put, the stadium is about the same, the uniforms are similar, and even the raw talent isn’t THAT much different (Illini sent guys to the NFL every year), but the level of execution is much different.

When it is 3’rd down, I *expect* them to convert. I am finally getting to where screw ups genuinely surprise me.

The play calling: well, when the coaches call for a run on 3’rd and 8..well, I now think “coaches saw something that makes them think it will work”..and it often does!

Now, yes, I know that the Illinois schedule has something to do with the record: Wisconsin and Virginia are dumpster fires this year, Iowa has zero offense and Minnesota is a one dimensional team (their running is good) who got too much credit for blowing out unexpectedly bad teams (Colorado, Michigan State).

But, Illinois really can make a claim to being the best team in the Big Ten West, as of this moment, though Purdue might dispute that. We’ll seem them in Champaign later this season.

And yes, even genuinely decent teams will lay an egg from time to time; Michigan State and Nebraska worry me. No, they aren’t good teams, BUT they are underachieving teams with talent, and such teams can always be dangerous, especially if you overlook them.

Michigan is still a level above us, and Northwestern: dreadfully bad team but you never know. We managed to lose to Indiana so…

Still, it was a fun game, even if the stadium was 3/4 full.