GOPHERS OFFENSE VS. ILLINI DEFENSE

Hardy Nickerson is Illinois’ D coordinator. His son, Hardy, came to Illinois from Cal as a graduate transfer and leads the Big Ten with 10.3 tackles per game. DEs Dawuane Smoot and Carroll Phillips have combined for 20 tackles for a loss. But the Illini have several other holes. Advantage: Gophers

SPECIAL TEAMS

Both teams have accurate kickers. Ryan Santoso gives the Gophers a punting edge, and Rodney Smith had a 94-yard kickoff return touchdown last week. Advantage: Gophers

Player to watch

Jeff George Jr., Illinois’ third-string quarterback, made his first career start last week because Wes Lunt and Chayce Crouch were injuried. George, the son of former Illini and Vikings QB Jeff George, went 0-for-7 in the first half. There’s an outside chance Lunt returns this week.

THE OPPONENT

Illinois hired Lovie Smith in March, injecting life into a program that struggled under Tim Beckman. Predictably, the on-field results haven’t been pretty. But the other four losses were vs. Michigan and Nebraska (both 7-0), Western Michigan (8-0) and North Carolina (6-2).

GOPHERS DEFENSE VS. ILLINI OFFENSE

WR Malik Turner ranks fifth in the Big Ten in receiving yards, with 513. RB Ke’Shawn Vaughn suffered an unspecified injury, but Kendrick Foster and Reggie Corbin are potent RBs. The Gophers get DBs KiAnte Hardin and Ray Buford back, but DT Steven Richardson is out (concussion). Advantage: Gophers

INTANGIBLES

Illinois is celebrating homecoming and honoring Red Grange with those same “Gray Ghost” uniforms it wore when it upset Minnesota two years ago. Advantage: Illinois

JOE’S PREDICTION

MINNESOTA: 31

ILLINOIS: 23

Even if Lunt returns at QB, the Gophers should be able to pick apart Illinois’ injury-riddled offensive line.