CHAMPAIGN, Ill. ( -- Rodney Smith rushed for 100 yards and two touchdowns and Minnesota turned a pair of early Illinois turnovers into scores on the way to a 40-17 win Saturday.

Smith's first touchdown was a 20-yard burst up the middle with 2:16 left in the first quarter, giving the Golden Gophers (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.

Thanks to the two early fumbles and a short punt, Minnesota started first-half drives at the Illinois 20, 9 and 49, and all ended with touchdowns.

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 for the game but sat out his third straight game with a back injury. Second-string quarterback Chayce Crouch, injured in a win over Rutgers two weeks ago, did not dress for the game.

The Gophers get what in the end turned into a blowout win, a little payback for a loss at Illinois two years ago and guarantee themselves bowl eligibility. But they struggled for three quarters to put away a limited Illini team. The Gophers get full credit for turning the two early Illini turnovers into touchdowns, but without them this might have been much closer.


Minnesota has a good shot at win No. 7 next Saturday when it faces Purdue at home.