Illinois-Minnesota game loaded with bowl implications
Who: Illinois vs. Minnesota
When: Saturday, 11 a.m. CT
Where: TCF Bank Stadium, Minnesota
TV: ESPN News
Spread: Minnesota -4.5
Matchup to watch: K.J. Maye vs. Clayton Fejedelem
If there’s one threat to take the top off the Illinois secondary, it’s Maye. The Gopher receiver is more of a possession guy, but he has the ability to operate anywhere on the field. Fejedelem has the ability to do the same. He hasn’t been the best in coverage, but he is the Illini’s best chance to bottle up the Minnesota speedster. Nobody has really been able to do that in the last month. Despite the fact that Maye faced off against the likes of elite corners Jourdan Lewis, Eli Apple and Desmond King, he has 23 catches and 284 yards in the last three games. He’ll be moved around plenty, and it’ll be Fejedelem’s job to make sure he doesn’t gash the Illini too badly.
Thing I’m excited to see: Minnesota’s growth
You could make the argument that the Gophers have grown as much as any team in the B1G over the last month. You wouldn’t know it by looking at the win column. That’s what happens when you face three top-15 teams, all of which the Gophers were within striking distance against in the fourth quarter. It’s no wonder Tracy Claeys was such an obvious hire for this team. They’ve played better football in the last three weeks than they did in the previous seven. Part of that is health. Getting Briean Boddy-Calhoun and Cody Poock back to 100 percent has been huge. Both Shannon Brooks and Drew Wolitarsky got involved more last week, which was a welcome sign for a Minnesota offense that desperately lacked playmakers. All the strides we’ve seen from the Gophers should surface against their first non-top-15 foe in five weeks.
Number to remember: 1
That’s how many touchdowns the Illinois offense has per B1G game against non-Purdue teams. In other words, that 48-point outburst against the last-place Boilers was just a wee bit of an outlier. It was an outlier because that was the first time in B1G play that tailbacks Josh Ferguson and Ke’Shawn played an entire game together. Guess what likely won’t happen on Saturday? Vaughn is expected to be out after suffering a concussion last week against Ohio State. That’s not good news. Wes Lunt and Geronimo Allison are a whole lot more effective when the ground game is established. I’d like Josh Ferguson’s chances a lot better if he had Vaughn to rotate snaps with. It is worth noting that the Minnesota defense did allow 195 yards and three touchdowns to Iowa’s LeShun Daniels. But Illini doesn’t have the run blocking Iowa does. If Illinois becomes one-dimensional, it could be an uphill battle.
Prediction: Minnesota 28, Illinois 17
I like desperate teams at home. I like desperate teams at home that have shown significant improvement even more. The Gophers are playing to keep their bowl hopes alive and are in search of their first B1G win since the Purdue game, which feels like ages ago. Illinois’ top pass-catching threat could easily be bottled up by Eric Murray. We’ll see a heavy dose of Ferguson in this one, but ultimately, I don’t see the Illini offense sustaining long drives to pull out a road win. Minnesota keeps the six-win dream alive.