After two bad performances from its defense, Illinois football is suddenly .500 with its season on the brink during a trip to Wrigley Field to face Northwestern.

Dissecting Minnesota (38) – Illinois (34): Game Balls, Catcalls & Downfalls

Sound the alarms!

Man the battle stations!

Illinois football is in a rapid downward spiral, and there may not be time to right the ship before the season ends.

One week after a heartbreaking loss to Michigan at the Big House, Illinois returned home only to be defeated by a 1-9 Minnesota team, on Senior Day nonetheless.

In two weeks, Illinois has gone from looking bowl bound with its best record since the Rose Bowl to possibly missing a bowl for the third consecutive season.

As the late, great Al McGuire would say: Holy Mackerel!

Final Score: Minnesota 38, Illinois 34

A full recap of the game can be found on Writing Illini’s Gameday Binoculars.

Game Balls

Nick Houska’s Game Ball

  • Mikel Leshoure

Leshoure took full advantage of Minnesota’s conference-worst run defense as he racked up 141 yards and two touchdowns on only 18 attempts.

His 7.8 yards per carry was a season high for the junior.

Leshoure now has more than 1,000 rushing yards for the season and and could boost that number to 1,200 by season’s end.

Other Players Worth Mentioning

  • Nathan Scheelhaase

While Scheelhaase’s performance was not as spectacular as some of his previous games this season, the freshman was impressive nonetheless.

Scheelhaase threw for 172 yards and two touchdowns and no interceptions.

While the freshman has spoiled us this season, such a performance does not guarantee him the game ball.

  • AJ Jenkins

Jenkins had a career game against the Gophers, recording a career high 137 yards and a touchdown on 6 receptions.

Those 137 yards Jenkins accumulated are 14 more yards than Jenkins had all of last season.

  • Anthony Santella

Santella had 239 yards on 6 punts, with his longest attempt going for 55 yards.

Santella had two punts that were downed inside the 20.

Being brutally honest, the senior punter was the lone bright spot on an otherwise poor special teams performance.

Catcalls

Nick Houska

  • Special Teams

A usually solid unit was in rare form last weekend.

Minnesota had more than 100 yards on only 3 kickoff returns while Illinois only managed a meager 36 on returns, 23 of which came on the last return of the game.

Illinois was sloppy on all sides of the ball, but the special team’s mistakes late may have cost Illinois the game.

Potential Downfalls

Nick Houska

  • Poor Tackling

The Illini have been uncharacteristically bad at finishing tackles in the last two games.

Against Minnesota, the Illini repeatedly bounced off a player in the backfield only to have him break the tackle and go for big yardage.

The Illini MUST get back to the solid tackling that they demonstrated during the first half of the season if they want to have any hope of making a bowl game this year.

  • Penalties

The Illini gave up the game by committing penalty after penalty, especially on the final drives.

A week after two costly penalties in the third overtime led to the Wolverines edging out the Illini, the team once again shot itself in the foot by committing costly penalties.

While an offensive holding call negated a Leshoure first down late in the fourth quarter and really hurt, the worst culprit was the defense.

Especially on the last drive, the Illinois defense gave up a dumb late hit call that gave Minnesota an important 15 yards.

  • Giving Up Big Plays

Illinois has given up too many big plays the last two games.

Against Minnesota, it cost them the game.

Illinois was up 10 points with 8 minutes remaining in the game and looked to finally have it under control. Then Minnesota returned a kickoff to the four yard line and scored two plays later.

After a three and out, Illinois had Minnesota on a third and very long.

Instead of getting a stop, the defense allowed Weber to rush for more than 20 yards untouched for a first down.

Illinois must eliminate these problems before the Northwestern game this weekend.

Writing Illini Projection Record: 7-3 (70%)

Check back later in the week for a look at Illinois’ final conference opponent, the Northwestern Wildcats.

Until then.

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Tags: Adam Weber AJ Jenkins Anthony Santella Derek Dimke Football Golden Gophers Football Gophers Football Illini Illini Football Illinois Fighting Illini Football Illinois Football Jarred Fayson Jason Ford Martez Wilson Mikel Leshoure Minnesota Football Minnesota Golden Gophers Football Nathan Scheelhaase Paul Petrino Ron Zook Ron Zook Nathan Scheelhaase Terry Hawthorne Vic Koenning

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