Here are the quick hits from Saturday's 40-17 loss for Illinois on the road at Minnesota:
Rodney Smith looked like a Wisconsin tailback against the porous Illini defense, topping 200 yards. Illinois missed a chance to go above .500 ahead of a nasty two-game home stretch in Michigan and Wisconsin.
WHAT IT MEANS
The heat is turning up considerably on Lovie Smith and his staff. Not so bad to lose close games, even at home. But blowout losses against a team you drilled the previous season do not sit well with the fandom.
Old, bitter rival Michigan visits Memorial Stadium for the first time since 2011. Jim Harbaugh’s team bounced back nicely from its thumping at Wisconsin, routing Rutgers, then edging undefeated Iowa at home on Saturday.
Player of the game: Minnesota running back Rodney Smith
Going into the game, the Gophers were 110th in the country in rushing. The senior from Georgia defied the numbers, running for a career-high 211 yards, including a touchdown. His early bursts set the tone.
Illinois D-, Minnesota A-
A week ago in a win against Purdue, Minnesota relied on Tanner Morgan’s arm. He still did fine work, but the bulk of the yards were provided by the running backs. Matt Robinson did a decent job after taking over for injured Brandon Peters. And Reggie Corbin ran well. But too many drops from the Illini receivers, The quarterbacks needed more help.
Illinois D+, Minnesota A-
Again, too many holes for the opposing running backs. Too many open receivers. Too many missed tackles. Give the Illini credit for two defensive touchdowns. The emphasis on forcing turnovers is great and all, but forcing punts works, too.
Illinois C, Minnesota C
Punter Blake Hayes was solid as usual. He might be the most consistent player on the team. Which is never a good sign for the rest of the team. James McCourt went 1 of 2 on field goals. He got some help from Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck, who called timeout right before a miss. McCourt nailed the second try. Gophers got off to a bad start knocking the opening kickoff out of bound. That shouldn’t happen. They also botched an extra point.
Illinois D, Minnesota A-
Two weeks after a heartbreaking loss to Nebraska, the Illini got off to a good start with an early pick six by Dele Harding. But the offense never got rolling, in part because of an injury to Peters. The defensive coordinator didn’t have an answer for Minnesota’s bruising run game. Credit Fleck for his first 5-0 start in the Twin Cities.
Illinois D, Minnesota A-
Lots of head shaking on the way home Saturday night. After a promising 2-0 start, the Illini have dropped three in a row. This was supposed to be one of those wins Illinois could sneak away with to get to bowl eligibility. But it wasn’t close. The Gophers are more than halfway to an 8-0 start. They are Big Ten West contenders, while the Illini are most certainly not.