The Fighting Illini

The Lovie Smith experiment has yet to bear fruit for Illinois: 8-24 and 3-20 in the Big Ten in the former Chicago Bears coach’s three years. The Illini are coming off a 63-33 loss at Maryland in which they gave up 712 yards, marking the fourth time they’ve surrendered 500 or more yards. Defensive coordinator Hardy Nickerson resigned Monday.

Player to watch

The Gophers have been burned by big plays all Big Ten season, and the Illini have a big-play threat in Reggie Corbin, above, who ranks second nationally with 8.03 yards per carry.

Gophers offense vs. Illini defense

The Gophers are coming off a strong performance in a 38-31 win over Indiana. QB Tanner Morgan passed for 302 yards and has the mobility that the injured Zack Annexstad lacked. One thing the Illini can do on defense is intercept passes. They have 13, so Morgan must be careful. Advantage: Gophers

Gophers defense vs. Illini offense

The Gophers can’t sleep on senior QB A.J. Bush, the likely starter. He threw an 84-yard TD pass last week and will test a young secondary. Advantage: Illinois

Special teams

Illinois has standouts at kicker and punter. Chase McLaughlin has four field goals of 50-plus yards, while Blake Hayes leads the Big Ten in punting average (43.7 yards). The Gophers counter with Emmit Carpenter (9-for-12 on field goals), Jacob Herbers (41.5) and stronger kickoff and punt coverage units. Advantage: Gophers

Intangibles

The Gophers still are playing for something: the chance to get a step closer to bowl eligibility. Mathematically, the Illini are too, but realistically? Not so much. Advantage: Gophers

RJ’S PREDICTION

Gophers 38

Illini 27

The Gophers get back-to-back Big Ten wins and get coach P.J. Fleck his first conference road triumph.