2:30 p.m. Saturday, Memorial Stadium (BTN, 100.3-FM)
A look at the Illini: Comparing the teams statistically this season, the Illini (0-2) and the Gophers (0-2) are both suffering from major defensive issues. Illinois and Minnesota are both giving up 309.5 yards passing per game, worst in the Big Ten through two conference games. But that number was inflated against the Gophers after Maryland’s Taulia Tagovailoa threw for 394 yards and three touchdowns in last week’s 45-44 overtime loss. Illinois was torched through the air both against Wisconsin (248 yards and five TDs) and Purdue (376 yards and two TDs). The main focus of Lovie Smith’s defense has been slowing down opponents on the ground (133.5 yards allowed per game). Meanwhile Minnesota’s biggest strength is running the football (195.5), but its biggest weakness defensively is stopping the run (268.5 yards allowed), ranking 100th nationally.
Who to watch: Illinois QBs Coran Taylor and Matt Robinson
The Illini’s quarterback against the Gophers won’t be known until gameday. After the 45-7 opening loss to the Badgers, Illinois lost senior and Michigan transfer Brandon Peters after he tested positive for COVID-19. Matt Robinson replaced Peters as the starter against Purdue last week, but he was sidelined by an ankle injury in the first quarter. Coran Taylor took over and passed for 273 yards and two touchdowns. But Taylor also had two interceptions and a critical second-half fumble in a 31-24 loss. Another backup, Isaiah Williams, is out because of contact tracing with the coronavirus. “Our healthy quarterbacks are all getting reps,” Smith said. “We kind of know who we’re going with in the game.”
From the coach: Lovie Smith
Coming from the NFL to take the Illinois job in 2016, Smith won six games last season, which included an upset over then-No. 6 Wisconsin. The Illini also played in their first bowl game since 2014. But the Badgers got revenge in the opening game this year before the pandemic and injuries decimated Smith’s depth, including 12 players out (two positive for COVID-19 and seven for contact tracing) for the second week in a row Saturday vs. Minnesota. There were no new positive cases for the Illini as of Wednesday, per Smith. “We don’t have anything to report as far as quarantined players right now,” he said. “Minnesota’s occupying all of our time. Beat us up last year.” The Gophers beat the Illini 40-17 at TCF Bank Stadium in 2019.