The success or failure of the roller coaster that is this season has essentially boiled down to today’s game against the Fighting Illini in Champaign.
With five wins under the belt and only one more to become bowl eligible, the Gophers are within sight of a postseason for the first time since 2009, when the Gophers lost to Iowa State, 14-13, in the Insight Bowl.
The match-up between the Gophers and the Illini will be a game between the worst teams in their respective divisions within the conference, as Minnesota is in the cellar of the Legends Division while Illinois resides at the bottom of the Leaders Division with only two wins on the season,
But with a bowl bid at stake, expect coach Jerry Kill to put a fire in his team.
With two games left against Nebraska and Michigan State following today, there would need to be a huge upset in their final two games if the Gophers can’t step up and win, as expected, against the Illini.
Cautiously optimistic is perhaps the best term to use for today as freshman quarterback Philip Nelson steps into the biggest game of his college career without receiver A.J. Barker who is recovering from an injured right ankle sustained in the win against Purdue.
Winning today’s match-up would ensure that this season was a success and the first “successful” season in Kill’s tenure.
Consistent play on defense will be vital as the Gophers have allowed more than 21 points in the second half in each of their last three games while holding teams under two touchdowns in the first half.
Offensively, the Gophers need to be better, especially Nelson, who has disappeared in the second half of games.
Minnesota has not won a game this season when they have scored 13 points or less, yet they have won every game where they have scored more than 13 points. It will be essential for Nelson and the offensive to find a rhythm early and put up at least two touchdowns in the first half.
The Gophers have won thee straight contests against Illinois and will look to continue that streak while the Illini look to snap a 11 game conference losing streak.
Gophers win 27-17. The accurate place kicker Jordan Wettstein comes to play and hits two field goals while managing to make all his PATs, The Gopher defense shuts down the Illini early, but gives up a pair of touchdowns in the second half.