Tanner Morgan passed for 155 yards and three touchdowns and Rodney Smith rushed for a career-high 211 yards and a score to help host Minnesota remain unbeaten with a 40-17 victory against Illinois on Saturday afternoon.
Minnesota (5-0, 2-0 Big Ten) is 5-0 for the first time since 2004 and just the sixth time since 1941.
After trailing by six at halftime, Illinois faltered down the stretch, falling to 2-3 and 0-2 in the Big Ten. While the Fighting Illini benefited from a pair of defensive touchdowns, their offense was outgained 487-248 as the team lost its third straight game.
The Golden Gophers finished with a season-best 332 yards on the ground on 52 attempts, an average of 6.4 yards per carry. Minnesota capitalized on the Fighting Illini’s Cover-2 defensive scheme, taking advantage as Illini kept light defensive personnel in the box. The Golden Gophers had 196 rushing yards in the first half; their previous season high entering the game was 146.
Shannon Brooks rushed for 111 yards and a touchdown
Minnesota opened the second half with a 59-yard pass play from Morgan to Rashod Bateman on play action. The Gophers scored three plays later on a 10-yard connection from Morgan to Chris Autman-Bell to increase their lead to 23-10.
After passing for 50 yards in the first half, Morgan went 3-for-3 for 73 yards on the opening drive of the third quarter.
A timeout by Minnesota coach PJ Fleck cost the Gophers three points in the closing moments of the second quarter. Illinois kicker James McCourt missed a 46-yard field goal attempt wide right, but Fleck called timeout before the snap.
Given another chance, McCourt drilled the kick to bring the Illini to within 16-10 at halftime.
Illinois scored the game’s first touchdown, as Dele Harding intercepted a Morgan pass and returned it 40 yards to the end zone. The Illini defense added another defensive touchdown on Milo Eifler’s 7-yard fumble return touchdown with 2:27 remaining in the third quarter.
Illinois starting quarterback Brandon Peters left the game in the first half with an apparent upper-body injury. Matt Robinson was 15-of-29 passing for 125 yards in relief.
Reggie Corbin led Illinois with 68 yards on 14 carries.
—Field Level Media