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Big Ten roundup: Minnesota makes Illinois pay for TOs in win

David Mercer
Associated Press
Minnesota running back Rodney Smith (1) runs the ball during the fourth quarter.

Champaign, Ill. — On a windy Illinois afternoon that made passing an adventure, Minnesota knew it would need to run the ball if it wanted to pocket a win.

But the Golden Gophers figured they might have to run a little farther than they did to beat the Illinois.

A pair of early Illinois turnovers and a short punt gave Minnesota the ball at the Illinois 49-, 20- and 9-yard lines, and the Gophers turned each into a touchdown on the way to a 40-17 win.

Rodney Smith did the bulk of the damage, rushing for 100 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries. Shannon Brooks added 59 yards and a score on a dozen carries.

Smith’s first touchdown was a 20-yard burst up the middle with 2:16 left in the first quarter, giving Minnesota (6-2, 3-2 Big Ten) the lead for good at 14-7. It followed a fumbled punt by Illinois’ Darius Mosely, recovered by Antione Winfield Jr. at the 20.

“We love to see that because we’re pretty good in the red zone,” said Brooks, who added that those turnovers built momentum for Minnesota and robbed Illinois of energy. “Yeah, definitely. That’s a stab, a stab in the back. That hurts.”

The turnovers, Illinois coach Lovie Smith said, swung the game hard and early for Minnesota.

“It’s hard to win the football game when you start like that,” Smith said. “Those turnovers put us in a hole.”

Jeff George Jr., Illinois’ (2-6, 1-4) third-string quarterback and the son of Illini legend and longtime NFL quarterback Jeff George, started his second straight game and went 16-34 for 156 yards and a touchdown.

Illinois starter Wes Lunt suited up but sat out his third straight game with a back injury. Second-string quarterback Chayce Crouch, who injured a shoulder in a win over Rutgers two weeks ago, is out for the season after having surgery Monday, Smith confirmed.

Illinois receiver Malik Turner left the field on a stretcher in the first half after a hit by Minnesota safety Duke McGhee. Turner was taken to a local hospital but was back in the locker room before the end of the game, Smith said, though further information about his injury was not available.

“It was terrifying. It was emotional, especially with a kid like that who works so hard, to see a tragic injury like that,” Smith said.

McGhee was flagged for targeting and ejected from the game.

More Big Ten

(At) Indiana 42, Maryland 36: Indiana Hoosiers coach Kevin Wilson finally figured out how to get his offense in sync.

He shuffled his best players in and out of the game, got the ball into his playmakers’ hands and just let them go to work.

The result: Three players topped the 100-yard mark, five players scored on touchdown runs and the Hoosiers’ got back into the bowl hunt with a 42-36 victory over Maryland.

“When you get that running game going, that stuff is easy. When you’re playing one dimensional, it’s a lot easier to get defended,” Wilson said. “A lot of things that we did today, we wouldn’t have done last week because of the scheme of the (opposing) defense. Some of the things we did were just part of the nature of what we do within the structure.”

The bottom line is it worked — and if Indiana (4-4, 2-3 Big Ten) can keep it rolling they could be headed to a second straight bowl game for the first time since 1990 and 1991.

Devine Redding ran for 130 yards and one score. Tyler Natee, the 270-pound freshman running back, ran 18 times for a career-high 111 yards and a TD. And Diamont, the backup quarterback had 11 carries for 104 yards and two scores as Indiana snapped a three-game losing streak.

For Maryland, it was a frustrating day.

Despite leading 21-16 at halftime and 24-23 with 1:11 left in the third quarter, the Terrapins (5-3, 2-3) couldn’t put away the rugged Hoosiers.

Instead, Mitchell Paige closed out the third quarter with a 15-yard TD run on a reverse and Perry Hills’ fumble led to Natee’s 2-yard plunge that made it 35-24. The Terrapins got within 35-30 late in the game but the 2-point conversion pass failed and Maryland couldn’t get any closer.

“We didn’t tackle well, we didn’t execute,” new Maryland coach DJ Durkin said. “We didn’t play at any sort of standard that would help us win a game.”