Week 9: Minnesota at Illinois

    Minnesota (6-1) at Illinois (3-4) Oct. 25, 12:00, ESPN2 Here’s The Deal: Really, is Minnesota in the Big Ten West race? At 6-1 overall – with the one loss

    October 24, 2014

    Minnesota (6-1) at Illinois (3-4) Oct. 25, 12:00, ESPN2 

    Here’s The Deal: Really, is Minnesota in the Big Ten West race? At 6-1 overall – with the one loss to TCU not looking so bad now – the Gophers are playing well with a rim-rocking win over Michigan, a fun battle against Northwestern, and a 39-38 war of attrition against Purdue that tested the team’s mettle. It’s going to get bad fast with Iowa, Ohio State, Nebraska and Wisconsin to close out November, but they’re already bowl eligible and a ten-win year wouldn’t be that crazy if the running game keeps working. 

    Illinois is treading water until it can find a new head coach, losing three straight including a home gaffe to the same Purdue team Minnesota just beat. The offense has some pop, but the defense has been hit hard giving up 34 points or more in every FBS game. With a road trip to Ohio State up next, the Illini have to pull this off or risk a really, really bad losing streak. 

    Why Minnesota Might Win: Nebraska ran for 458 yards and five touchdowns, Purdue ran for 349 yards and four scores, and Wisconsin ran for 401 yards and five yards – welcome to the last three Illinois games. The run defense has been non-existent in Big Ten play, and it didn’t show up against Washington, either, getting rolled for 245 yards and two scores. Minnesota hasn’t been Nebraska/Wisconsin dominant with its run first/run only offense, but it hit the 200-yard mark in three of the last four games. It’s more of an effective, plodding running attack than a flashy one, but it’s effective. Minnesota could simply hang on to the ball for 40 minutes and run its way to a win. 

    Why Illinois Might Win: The Minnesota offense showed fight against Northwestern, and a spark against Illinois, but the defense couldn’t stop getting ripped up last week by Purdue. Raheem Mostert averaged 23 yards per carry on his five tries, and there were big problems in the first half allowing 31 points. The Gophers tightened up considerably in the second half, but the blueprint was there. Find a way to give a good back a crease, and he’ll make the most of it. Illinois likes to throw the ball with its efficient downfield attack, but with QB Wes Lunt still out injured, that means …

    Who To Watch Out For: Josh Ferguson and Donovonn Young have to become major factors for the Illini. Ferguson leads the team with 470 yards and five scores, but 190 of his yards came against Texas State. He’s more of a speedster, while Young has more thump. The problem is that he hasn’t been used much with just six yards on three carries last week. These two have to take the pressure off of QB Riley O’Toole, a veteran who completed 12-of-19 passes against the Badgers with two touchdowns, but he only threw for 98 yards. 

    What’s Going To Happen: Minnesota is finding a way to answer every challenge. Illinois will push the ball a bit on some early drives, but the supremely confident Gophers and David Cobb with pound their way to an aesthetically unpleasing win. 

    Prediction: Minnesota 38 … Illinois 27 
    Line: Minnesota -6.5 o/u: 57 
    Must Watch Factor: 5: Dumb and Dumber To – 1: Manhattan Love Story … 2 

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