Scouting report Gophers vs. Illinois
2:30 p.m. Saturday • TCF Bank Stadium (BTN, 100.3-FM)
Illini looks lost in another down year
In the second year of Lovie Smith’s rebuilding job, Illinois is 2-4 overall and 0-3 in the Big Ten after a 3-9 campaign in 2016. The season hit the low point last Saturday, when the Illini lost 35-24 at home to a Rutgers team that had lost 16 consecutive Big Ten games. Illinois will try to end a six-game conference skid against the Gophers, who are on a four-game Big Ten skid of their own. Minnesota won last year’s game 40-17 in Champaign, Ill., with Rodney Smith, Shannon Brooks and Kobe McCrary combining for 173 rushing yards and four touchdowns.
Who to watch: Jeff George Jr., QB
The son of former Vikings quarterback Jeff George has started the past two games, injecting life into the Illini offense after taking over from Chayce Crouch. George, a sophomore, completed 20 of 38 passes for a career-high 308 yards and two touchdowns against Rutgers after going 22-for-45 for 246 yards in a loss at Iowa. George’s problem has been interceptions — three against the Hawkeyes, two against the Scarlet Knights and seven on the season.
From the coach: Lovie Smith
Smith, the former Chicago Bears and Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach, will match up against the Gophers’ P.J. Fleck for the second consecutive year. Fleck’s Western Michigan team beat Illinois 34-10 in Champaign. “Playing Western Michigan last year, we’re familiar with their schemes,” Smith said. “So, we feel like we have a good game plan to go off. As I mentioned they’ve lost three games in a row. So, they’re gonna search for answers too.”