Illinois is at a solid 2-4 and travels to Minnesota this week, who has lost three straight and stands at a record of 3-3. Both teams are looking for their first win in the B1G.
Location: TCF Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, MN
Time: 2:30 CST
Watch: BTN, Fox Sports Go
Illinois Keys to the Game
Score. Some. Points.
Illinois is 15-17 in the Red Zone with 8 TDs and 7 field goals. In Big 10 play, Illinois has only reached the red zone 8 times and only scored 7 times. The 1 non-score was the pick 6 against Iowa on an under thrown ball by Jeff George Jr. A lot of this has to do with the inexperience on the O-line where Illinois starts 4 freshmen. Now over the last 2 games, the new line has allowed the Illinois offense to explode for 420 ypg.
Stop the Run
Against Rutgers last week, the Illini were torched in the run game. Rutgers ran the ball 47 times for 274 yards and 5 TDs. Rutgers only attempted a pass 12 times in the entire game, completing only 6 passes for 102 yards with 0 interceptions. Look for Minnesota to abuse this porous run defense. On the year the Gophers have run the ball 261 times for for 1024 yards and 11 TDs. If the Illini cannot stop the run and make open field tackles, this will be a very very very long game.
Don’t Turn the Ball Over
The Illini have 11 interceptions on the season and 2 fumbles. JGJ has thrown 8 interceptions which is abysmal for a starting QB. Sustaining long drives will be key for the Illini offense. If the Illini can control the pace of the game offensively and keep the Minnesota offense off the field, the Illini have a good chance. Freshman RB Ravon Bonner is starting in place of injured RB Mike Epstien and will have to play bigger a bigger role with Mikey Dudek nursing a knee and Illinois passing attack being very streaky. Illinois also has to watch for penalties, which has cost the team lots of yardage this year.
Illinois Defense against Minnesota’s Run
There is one thing that is clear, Minnesota will run the ball on Saturday. In 2 of the past 3 games, Minnesota has failed to clear the 100 yard mark. In all 3 games Minnesota has failed to score a rushing TD. In the same period, the Illini have allowed 620 rushing yards and 6 TDs. The Illini have a lot to prove. Minnesota has a healthy passing attack with 546 yards in the last 3 games with 6 TDs and 4 Interceptions. This is a tough challenge for the young Illinois defense.
Illinois is still trying to figure out everything. They start 14 freshmen that are adjusting to Big 10 play, and playing at TCF will be a huge learning experience. Minnesota are the home favorites by 2 scores, and should be able to cover. There will be no homecoming spoils for the Golden Gophers and will win 27-9.
Side Note: I am very optimistic still, Illinois will somehow find a way and at least cover the spread.