Minnesota vs. Illinois prediction and game preview. The Golden Gophers try to win a third straight game when they visit the Fighting Illini on Saturday.
Minnesota vs. Illinois Game Preview
When: Saturday, Oct. 29 – Noon ET
Where: Memorial Stadium, Champaign, Ill.
TV Broadcast: Big Ten Network
Minnesota has won back-to-back games and is now one victory away from becoming bowl-eligible. That said, the latest win wasn’t all that impressive. After beating Maryland, which didn’t have its starting quarterback, two weeks ago, the Golden Gophers trailed Big Ten-worst Rutgers by a point in the fourth quarter last week. They survived when Emmit Carpenter hit a 28-yard field goal with six seconds remaining.
Illinois’ weekend went much, much worse. It fell 41-8 at Michigan while finishing with just 172 yards of total offense. Redshirt freshman quarterback Jeff George Jr. – son of the former Illinois great and No. 1 overall NFL draft pick – didn’t complete a pass in the first half in his debut. He could be under center again this week, as Wes Lunt is dealing with a back injury and Chayce Crouch has a potentially serious shoulder issue.
What To Know About Minnesota
The Gophers appear to be playing their third straight game against a team dealing with quarterback problems. They jumped out to a 21-3 lead last week before squandering it against a Rutgers team still trying to figure out its quarterback carousel. Still, Minnesota ranks third in the Big Ten in yards allowed per play at 4.86 despite ranking 11th in the conference in pass defense.
Rodney Smith has run for at least 100 yards in each of his last two games and is tied for the conference lead with eight touchdowns. His 100.1 yards per game also are third in the Big Ten despite him averaging just 19 carries per contest.
What To Know About Illinois
The Fighting Illini likely will get a large dose of Smith with them ranking 11th in the Big Ten in run defense. They allowed 270 yards on the ground against the Wolverines and are giving up an average of 238.8 rushing yards over their last five games.
Illinois’ biggest concern is getting its own offense going, though. George struggled mightily in his first start, finishing 4-of-15 for 95 yards – 43 of them going to Malik Turner on a touchdown pass in the fourth quarter. The running game finished with just 77 yards, and 45 of those came on a single run by Ke’Shawn Vaughn.
Offense: Minnesota – Mitch Leidner has one touchdown and five interceptions in his last four games, but Smith gives the Gophers the slight edge here.
Defense: Minnesota – The Gophers’ 15 forced turnovers are tied for the most in the Big Ten.
Special Teams: Minnesota – Carpenter is one of the most accurate kickers in the conference.
Coaching: Even – Lovie Smith has NFL experience, but Tracy Claeys has Minnesota in better position at the moment.
Intangibles: Minnesota – The Gophers ran for 255 yards and three touchdowns in last year’s 32-23 win over Illinois.
Matchup To Watch
Smith vs. Illinois’ run defense
If Illinois’ offense continues to stall and punt it away, Minnesota will be looking to give the ball to Smith so he can grind out yardage. It also would be hoping to break a couple given the Fighting Illini’s struggles stopping the run.
Spread: Minnesota -5
Over/Under: No line as of post
Minnesota vs. Illinois Prediction
This will be one of your classic Big Ten grind-it-out battles. Smith gets the best of Illinois, and Minnesota pulls out a close victory.
Minnesota vs. Illinois final score prediction: Minnesota 21, Illinois 17.