MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Tanner Morgan saw the defense sink towards the line of scrimmage preparing to stop Minnesota’s surging rushing attack. The Gophers quarterback stepped back and connected with receiver Rashod Bateman for a 59-yard pass on the first play of the second half.
Minnesota got its running game to open up the field for Morgan, and the Gophers had the complementary offense they hoped for this season.
Rodney Smith ran for a career-best 211 yards and a touchdown, Shannon Brooks added 111 rushing yards and a touchdown in his second game back from injury and Minnesota totaled 332 yards on the ground against Illinois in a 40-17 win on Saturday afternoon.
Tanner Morgan was 9-of-17 passing for 155 yards and three touchdowns for the Gophers (5-0, 2-0 Big Ten), who have won seven straight games dating back to last season and are 5-0 for the first time since 2004.
“We want to be balanced,” Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck said. “I think the teams that can be balanced at any moment, and can control and sustain the balance, are going to be the most dangerous teams.”
The Gophers defense allowed just three points and held Illini running back Reggie Corbin, the third-leading rusher in the Big Ten, to 68 yards on 14 carries. Last season, Corbin ran for 213 yards in a win against Minnesota and Illinois rushed for 430 yards as a team.
“It’s crazy because it’s like the same team,” Corbin said. “I have no clue. I’m kind of in disbelief as well.”
The Illini (2-3, 0-2) scored two defensive touchdowns. Dele Harding returned an interception of Morgan for a touchdown in the first quarter for early lead and Milo Eifler returned a fumble for another score in the third after Jake Hansen stripped Morgan on a sack.
“Defensively, it’s about tackling better,” Illinois coach Lovie Smith said of how the team can improve. “Offensively, we need to be able to be who we are, and that’s a running football team, and when we get opportunities to hit passes, we need to do that. That’s what they did against us today.”
Smith helped the Gophers grab momentum in the second after a slow start by both teams. He had a season-long 64-yard run to set up the Gophers first touchdown.
“We knew we had to run the ball because of the weather,” Smith said of the 52-degree start with mist and rain in the air. “We had to show up and deliver.”