The Minnesota Golden Gopher football team became the fifth Big Ten Conference team to reach bowl eligibility with a 17-3 win over the Illinois Fighting Illini Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
The Gophers are not guaranteed a place in a bowl game. But, with eight bowl tie-ins and two ineligible squads, the Gophers are highly likely going to participate in a postseason game.
The last time the Gophers were in a bowl game was the 2009 Insight Bowl (now titled the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl) in Phoenix. This season’s seniors were freshmen at the time.
“(I’m) happy for our seniors,” head coach Jerry Kill said after the game. “When you go through a coaching transition, that’s a hard thing.”
Donnell Kirkwood led the Gopher offense with 152 rushing yards for his third 100-yard game of his career and the season and pounded his way into the end zone twice.
The Gophers (6-4 overall, 2-4 conference) finished the game with 231 rushing yards on the legs of Kirkwood and freshmen Rodrick Williams and Philip Nelson. The trio combined for 104 yards in the second half to methodically take the Illini out of the game.
“We ran the old fashion power and outside zone and our backs ran hard and Philip made some good decisions,” Kill said about the second half offense.
The Gophers have now defeated the Illini four straight times in Champaign, Ill. The Illini (2-8, 0-6) have now lost 12 straight Big Ten Conference games, dating back to a road win over the Indiana Hoosiers on Oct. 8, 2011.
The Gophers put the game away in the fourth quarter when Mike Rallis knocked the ball out of the hands of Illini quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase’s hands as he reached toward first down yardage. Derrick Wells picked the ball up and ran it down to the Illini 19-yard line. It was the second fumble the Gophers recovered in the game.
Kirkwood put the Gophers ahead by two scores three plays later on a 12-yard run with one minute and 34 seconds remaining.
Gopher center Zach Mottla was injured and carted off the field during the fourth quarter. It did not look good as he left the field with his left leg in a splint. The Edina native and Cretin-Derham Hall graduate had missed several games earlier this season due to an injury.
No. 1 – Donnell Kirkwood. The sophomore running back ran for 152 yards and two touchdowns. His two touchdowns turned a tie game into a 14-point lead.
No. 2 – Roland Johnson. The junior defensive tackle recorded only one tackle for a loss, but he seemed to disrupt every play in the backfield. He totaled seven tackles and a fumble recovery.
No. 3 – Troy Stoudermire. The senior cornerback broke a pass inside the Gopher 10-yard on a fourth down play in the fourth quarter. He finished the game with six tackles.