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5 things that stood out in the Gophers' debacle against Illinois

Minnesota lost its grip on the lead in the Big Ten West.
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Heartbreaking is one word that comes to mind when recapping how the Gophers lost to Illinois 27-26 Saturday. Here are a bunch of other words to point out the five things that really stood out in the debacle at Huntington Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. 

1. What was Minnesota doing on defense?

How does a receiver get behind the defense for a 46-yard touchdown with 50 seconds left in the game? Minnesota led 26-21 when Isaiah Williams did just that and caught in stride a pass from fresh-off-the-bench quarterback John Paddock.

Paddock had thrown 20 passes all season before coming into the game cold and then he went 3-for-3 for 85 yards and the dagger. 

It'll be interesting to see how head coach P.J. Fleck and defensive coordinator Joe Rossi explain what happened and how Williams could get behind a defense that features All-American hopeful safety Tyler Nubin, who was one of two defenders whom Williams split for the touchdown. 


Nov 4, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Golden Gophers head coach P.J. Fleck looks on during the second half against the Illinois Fighting Illini at Huntington Bank Stadium. 

2. Sean Tyler worst start possible

Sean Tyler fumbled on the opening kickoff return and the Illini recovered at the 20-yard line. Three plays later Illinois scored for a 7-0 lead. The turnover gave Illinois the first offensive possession of the game and stung in the second half since Illinois got the ball to start the third quarter. 

Tyler has had a rough first season in Minnesota after transferring from Western Michigan. He was expected to be the Gophers' No. 1 running back but two fumbles in the season opener cost him his job and he's continued to have ball security problem ever since. 

3. Brevyn Spann-Ford breaks out ... on one drive

Heralded as one of the top tight ends in the country before the season, Spann-Ford was having a miserable season before Saturday's performance against Illinois. He had five catches for 45 yards in the season opener against Nebraska and then had six straight games with one or two catches and a total of 10 reception for 64 yards. 

Spann-Ford had three catches for 58 yards and a touchdown on Minnesota's second offensive possession of the game and finished the day with ... three catches for 58 yards and a touchdown. 

4. Gifting Iowa the lead in the Big Ten West

Wisconsin lost 20-14 to Indiana. Nebraska lost 20-17 against Michigan State. Minnesota lost 27-26 to Illinois. That's about as bad as a Saturday in the Big Ten gets considering Indiana, Michigan State and Illinois were at the bottoms of their divisions entering action Saturday. 

The three debacles by Wisconsin, Nebraska and Minnesota have Iowa, which barely beat Northwestern 10-7 at Wrigley Field, on top of the Big Ten West at 7-2 overall and 4-2 in conference play. Wisconsin, Minnesota and Nebraska are all 5-4 overall and 3-3 in the Big Ten. 

Look how the four finish the regular season the next three weeks: 

  • Iowa: vs. Rutgers, vs. Illinois, at Nebraska
  • Wisconsin: vs. Northwestern, vs. Nebraska, at Minnesota
  • Minnesota: at Purdue, at Ohio State, vs. Wisconsin
  • Nebraska: vs. Maryland, at Wisconsin, vs. Iowa

5. Minnesota missed Cody Lindenberg

Lindenberg was supposed to be the lynchpin in the middle of Minnesota's defense but the linebacker from the Twin Cities missed the first six games of the season due to an injury. He played 45 snaps in Minnesota's win over Michigan State last week and was full-go for Illinois and he led the team with 10 tackles, including 1.5 for loss, and the play of the day when he punched the ball out of Isaiah Williams' hands for a forced fumble that Minnesota recovered. 

Two plays later Kaliakmanis hit Daniel Jackson for a 31-yard touchdown and a 26-21 lead with under six minutes left in the game.