CHAMPAIGN — Lovie Smith made no excuses for his Illini football team’s dismal performance in Saturday’s 41-14 blowout loss to previously winless Minnesota. He put the blame squarely on himself.
“I’m the head football coach. Everything comes back to me,” Smith said. “I didn’t perform the way I need to.”
Mo Ibrahim set a Gopher program record with four rushing touchdowns while gaining 224 yards on the ground in 30 carries.
“Whenever you can run the football like that,” Smith said of Ibrahim, “it’s gonna be a tough day. It’s gonna be a long day. Defensively, how we played in our front seven, it can’t get much worse.”
Smith bristled when one reporter pointed out that his disappointment in year five sounded a lot like the disappointment he expressed in his first four seasons, all of which finished with a losing record.
“So let me ask you this: What am I supposed to say then? We stunk up the place today. We didn’t play well today,” Smith said. “The only option we have is to get to the next game. If we said that before, and it happened? Yeah, we’re gonna say it again right now: ‘Today’s effort, the way we played, wasn’t good enough. And the only way you can get this bad taste out of your mouth is to get to the next game.’ After losses, that’s what you say. If you got something else that’s better for that, give it to me.”
Gophers quarterback Tanner Morgan was 17-27 for 216 yards and one touchdown. That catch was one of Rashod Bateman’s 10 receptions, totaling 154 yards.
The Illini gained 287 yards in total offense, including 106 yards passing for Coran Taylor, and 108 yards rushing from Mike Epstein. Both totals were eclipsed by the 120 yards Illinois lost on 12 penalties. Taylor completed just six of his 17 passing attempts, but added 92 yards on 19 rushing attempts.
Josh Imatorbhebhe led the Illini with two receptions for 60 yards and a touchdown. Epstein scored the other Illini touchdown on a one-yard run. On defense, Tony Adams led Illinois with 11 tackles.
Illinois played again without quarterbacks Brandon Peters and Isaiah Williams, both sitting due to COVID protocol. Backup quarterback Matt Robinson remains injured.
On the other side of the line, Minnesota was without injured defensive tackle Keonta Schad. Three Gopher offensive linemen and defensive coordinator Joe Rossi were out due to COVID.
The Gophers are now 1-2 on the year. Illinois drops to 0-3. They return to action at Rutgers on Saturday. That kickoff is scheduled for 11:00am on the Big Ten Network.