GOPHERS OFFENSE VS. ILLINI DEFENSE

Illinois ranked last in the Big Ten in scoring defense last year (34 points per game) but is tied for seventh with Michigan State this year at 22.3. The Illini have a strong defensive line, and free safety Clayton Fejedelem, who started his career in the NAIA at St. Xavier, leads the team in tackles. Advantage: Illinois

 

SPECIAL TEAMS

Punter Peter Mortell and kicker Ryan Santoso are considerably better than their Illinois counterparts. Advantage: Gophers

Player to watch

Illinois running back Josh Ferguson has returned from a right shoulder injury. In three games without the senior, the Illini went 0-3, averaging 11 points and 46 rushing yards per game. In nine games with him, they are 7-2, averaging 29 points and 170 rushing yards per game.

 

THE OPPONENT

Illinois upset the Gophers 28-24 last year and finished 6-7. Offensive coordinator Bill Cubit took over as interim coach in August when Tim Beckman was fired. The Illini need one more W to clinch a bowl berth. They finish with Northwestern next week.

GOPHERS DEFENSE VS. ILLINI OFFENSE

Quarterback Wes Lunt missed last year’s Gophers game with a broken leg. He’s a good passer but lacks mobility, which bodes well for a Minnesota defense struggling to contain scrambling quarterbacks. The Gophers hope to make Illinois one-dimensional by stuffing the run. Advantage: Even

 

INTANGIBLES

After three night games in a row, the Gophers need to readjust their body clocks for a morning kickoff. The freezing temperature could be a tougher adjustment for Illinois. Advantage: Gophers

 

JOE’S PREDICTION

 

30               27

MINN.      ILLINI

Illinois would clinch a bowl berth, but the Gophers will keep their own bowl hopes alive, getting Tracy Claeys his first victory as head coach.