For the second straight season, Illinois will be playing for its postseason future in its regular-season finale.
The Illini couldn't stop Minnesota's rushing attack and couldn't come up with touchdowns when they needed to, falling to the Gophers, 32-23, on Saturday afternoon in the Twin Cities.
Wes Lunt played very well in the first half and got the Illini on the board first, capping a 77-yard touchdown drive with a touchdown toss to Malik Turner. But the Gophers responded immediately, Mitch Leidner gaining 33 yards on one rush en route to a Shannon Brook game-tying touchdown run.
After Illinois kicked a field goal, Brooks turned in a game-breaking 38-yard touchdown run. He later fumbled in the second quarter, which the Illini turned into another field goal. But Minnesota reached the goal line with seconds before halftime, and Leidner hit Rashad Still with a touchdown pass to take a 21-13 lead into the break.
The Illini settled for a field goal once more in the third quarter, but the Gophers were offsides on the play, keeping the drive going. A few plays later, Lunt pitched a touchdown toss to Andrew Davis to make it a one-point game. Minnesota then got a huge kick return but settled for a field goal of its own. A quarter later, the Illini were forced into another field goal, and Brooks' 75-yard touchdown run sealed the game when Leidner ran in for a successful two-point conversion.
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Illinois lost despite out-gaining Minnesota, 433-343. The Gophers gained 255 rushing yards, with Brooks rushing for 174 yards and three touchdowns.
Lunt had a good day for the Illini, finishing with 279 passing yards and two touchdowns, plus an interception. Josh Ferguson went over 100 yards on the ground, gaining 105 yards on 20 carries. Turner had a huge day, catching 11 passes for 126 yards and a touchdown.
The Illini dropped to 5-6 with the loss, and their only hope at reaching a bowl game — and perhaps of keeping Bill Cubit as the permanent head coach — rides on the regular-season finale against Northwestern next weekend at Soldier Field.
The Gophers improved to 5-6 with the win and could reach the postseason with an upset win over Wisconsin next weekend.