Previewing The Game That Results In A Bowl? Minnesota @ Illinois

Reid Compton-US PRESSWIRE

Bowl eligibility is there for the taking. Let's break down the team that stands in the way.

OPENING THOUGHTS

Bowl eligibility. That could be the first and last things I say about this game. This is the best chance the Gophers have of securing a bowl berth. It's also the best chance they've had in a while for Jerry Kill's first B1G road win at Minnesota. So...yea, kind of an important game.

This is a game Minnesota should win. Not will win. But should win. Illinois is...not good. Now, I think we all know just how far the Gophers are from excellence themselves. But the Gophers are better than Illinois is. That's not a situation they've been in frequently in B1G play. They need to keep their heads on straight, avoid mistakes, play will confidence and poise, and get this done.

THE BASICS

When and Where:

2:30pm, Memorial Stadium, Champaign, IL

Media

TV: Big Ten Network

Radio: KFAN (100.3 FM in the Twin Cities) and the Gopher Radio Network (Radio Affiliates). You can also listen to the game via the IHeartRadio app for your mobile device.

Weather Forecast:

Overall look at the day...

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...the weather for tailgating...

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...and here's how the hourly look for kickoff and beyond...

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Looks like it is shaping up to be a gorgeous day in Illinois!

THE ENEMY

Last Season:

How very Zook of you Illinois. After racing out to a 6-0 start, the Illini had a huge game against Ohio State. Down two scores, Ron Zook coached like an idiot (wait...how was that different than usual?) and the loss turned into a 6 game skid. Illinois became the first team to lose 6 in a row after starting 6-0, got their butts whipped in TCF Bank Stadium to end the season, got Ron Zook fired, but did manage to win their bowl game over UCLA to avoid a losing season.

2012 Season To Date:

So...not good. Tim Beckman came in from Toledo to rebuild the program. Not a flashy hire, he did seem to possess the background to possibly make Illinois a threat this season. But that was not to be. Illinois has been one of the worst BCS teams in the country and has limped out to a 2-7 record (0-5 B1G) with their wins coming over Western Michigan in the opener and something called Charleston Southern.

General Notes:

- Minnesota leads the all-time series 34-28-3.

- Minnesota has a 13-16-1 record against Illinois on the road.

- Minnesota has won 3 straight on the road versus Illinois and has not lost in Champaign since 2001.

- Minnesota’s three-game road winning streak at Illinois is the longest road winning streak against a Big Ten opponent since it won four straight at Northwestern from 1985-1993.

- A win on Saturday would be Minnesota’s first Big Ten road win since a 38-34 win at Illinois on Nov. 13, 2010.

Coaches:

Head Coach: Tim Beckman, 1st season. 2-7 (0-5) overall record. His background prior to becoming the HC at Toledo in 2009 was a defensive coach. He was the DC at Oklahoma State for 2 seasons and before that was a dbacks coach under Tressel at OSU and a 6 year DC at Bowling Green under Urban Meyer.


Offensive Coordinator: Illinois appears to have gone with the lame "co-coordinator" plan on offense. So I'll list them both:

- Chris Beatty; Co-Offensive Coordinator / Quarterbacks: 1st season

- Billy Gonzales; Co-Offensive Coordinator / Receivers: 1st season

Defensive Coordinator: Tim Banks: 1st season

The Offense:

It...sucks. Yea, I tried to be more descriptive, but no, they suck. There is nothing they do well on a consistent basis. Just look at the numbers, they are no better than 96th in any offense category.

- Rushing Offense: 96th (12th); 126.00 ypg

- Passing Offense: 107th (11th); 175.00 ypg

- Passing Efficiency: 99th (10th); 117.4 rating

- Total Offense: 115th (12th); 301.00 ypg

- Scoring Offense: 114th (12th); 18.44 ppg

- 3rd Down Efficiency: 110th; 32.85%

- Red Zone Efficiency: 102nd; 72%

As for players to watch out for? Their leading rusher is Donovan Young, who has 417 yards on 102 carries (46 ypg, 4.1 ypc). QB Nathan Scheelhaase has had a bad season, to the point where Illini fans are wondering if it is Reilly O'Toole time. Assuming we see Scheelhaase, he's throwing for 133 ypg, completing 60% of his passes, has 4 TD's vs. 6 INT's, and carries a 106.9 efficiency rating. As for receivers, the big #1 is Ryan Lankford. His 427 receiving yards account for 27% of the team's receiving yards. No one else has more than 199. The leading receiver in terms of catches is actually RB Donovan Young. The offensive line has been terrible, as they gave up 7 sacks to Indiana (yes, that Indiana).

The Defense:

Illinois seems to be fielding a "meh", but not completely horrible defense. They are in the bottom half in rushing D and scoring D, and the upper half in passing D and total D. Here's the problem. Their best defensive player (IMO by far their best D player) is out for the Minnesota game. LB Jonathan Brown was tied for the lead in tackles with 59, was the big leader in TFL with 9.5, and was tied for the team lead in sacks with 2.5. Losing such an important player in the middle of the defense doesn't bode well for Illinois. Other names to watch? LB Mason Monheim, who was tied with Brown with 59 tackles, has 3.5 TFL, and 1 sack. The top of the defense stat sheet is rounded out by STAR, Ashante Williams.

- Rushing Defense: 76th (8th); 172.33 ypg

- Passing Defense: 44th (7th): 215.89 ypg

- Passing Efficiency Defense: 112th (12th); 152.13 rating

- Total Defense: 55th (9th); 388.22 ypg

- Scoring Defense: 95th (12th); 33.11 ppg

- Turnover Margin: 91st (11th); -.56

- 3rd Down Defense: 19th; 31.82%

- Red Zone Defense: 51st; 80%

Special Teams:

Nothing too scary to watch out for in the return game. CB Terry Hawthorne is the primary returner. Punter Justin DuVernois is pretty solid. The FG kickers are nondescript.

- Kickoff Returns: 107th (10th); 18.06 ypr

- Punt Returns: 118th (12th); 1.64 ypr

- Net Punting: 36th (1st); 38.52 ypp

- Kick Return Defense: 43rd; 20.15 ypr

- Punt Return Defense: 58th; 7.48 ypr

SMART SOUNDING MUMBLINGS

Keys to the Game:

- Win the turnover battle

As true now as it has been every other week.

- Slow/stop the Illinois run game to create 3rd and long situations

Illinois has struggled mightily to keep their QB's upright. I suspect the Gophers will be able to bring pressure and get sacks regardless of down and distance, but if they can start teeing off on 3rd and longs I foresee Illinois having a long day.

- Establish the run on offense

Broken record, but Phil Nelson will be much more effective if he has a play action game to work off of and if he's seeing more 3rd and 3's instead of 3rd and 7's.

- Stop stalling in the red zone

Just...we need points. More than 13 of them. PLEASE.

Completely Worthless Prediction:

If we were totally healthy on offense, I think I might call this one a 10 point to 17 point victory. As it is, I'm just not sold on our offense's ability to get hot. Don't get me wrong, I know they are capable of it. I just think it's more likely that they are streaky and inconsistent given the injuries at OL and WR. If I had to rate the chances in this game, I'd say there is a 20% chance we are hot and blow Illinois up, a 50% chance we are inconsistent and win a close one, and a 30% chance we struggle and lose a close one. I'm going to pick a close win...Minnesota 24, Illinois 20.

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