Another missed opportunity for Illinois

Updated: October 26, 2003, 1:43 PM ET

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Less than a minute remained in the first half and Minnesota led 17-7. Illinois had driven from its own 45 to the Minnesota 10 and had first-and-goal.

Quarterback Dustin Ward's first pass to the end zone fell incomplete. On second down, he tried for the end zone again, looking for tight end Melvin Bryant.

Minnesota safety Justin Isom stepped in front of Bryant, grabbing both the pass and Illinois' chances to make the game close. The Gophers rolled to a 36-10 win Saturday, breaking a two-game losing streak and spoiling the Illini homecoming.

"The quarterback threw it right to me," Isom said of his interception. "All I had to do was catch it."

It was yet another missed opportunity in a season full of them for Illinois, which lost its seventh straight game.

"We drove it down with a chance to score and get that spark and get some momentum and get something going and we don't," said Illini coach Ron Turner. "It's tough. We've got to get those kind of plays."

Minnesota (7-2, 3-2 Big Ten) ran up 575 yards in offense behind the rushing of freshman Laurence Maroney, who had 179 yards on 21 carries, and Marion Barber III, who rushed for 129 yards on 24 carries.

Asad Abdul-Khaliq was 12-for-15 for 237 yards and three touchdowns, including an 80-yard strike to Aaron Hosack in the second quarter.

"I think we definitely showed that we can be balanced, that we have a good balanced offense," Abdul-Khaliq said.

The win, which nudged the Gophers back into the AP Top 25 at the No. 24 slot, was the fifth time this season that Minnesota had more than 500 yards. The Gophers have been under 400 yards only once.

Illinois (1-8, 0-5) had 339 total yards, one more than Minnesota had rushing.

After Abdul-Khaliq's 80-yard TD pass to Hosack put Minnesota up 17-0 with 12:28 remaining in the first half, Ward replaced starting quarterback Chris Pazan and led the Illini on a seven-play, 80-yard scoring drive, ending with a 4-yard scoring pass to Carey Davis. Ward was 4-for-4 on the drive, including a 47-yard completion to Kelvin Hayden.

Illinois' only other score was a 27-yard field goal by John Gockman.

The Illini, already crippled by season-ending injuries to three starters, lost three players during the game. Running back Pierre Thomas left with a deep bruise on his left leg, and Hayden and receiver Lonnie Hurst were forced from the game by ankle injuries and their status wasn't clear after the game.

Illinois plays its next two games on the road, at Iowa and Indiana, and has a bye week before its final home game against Northwestern on Nov. 22. Minnesota plays its next two games at home, against Indiana and Wisconsin.

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index