Playing For Pride, Gophers Head To Champaign To Take On Illini

DATE & TIME: Saturday, Nov. 13, 12:00 p.m. (EST).

FACTS & STATS: Site: Memorial Stadium (62,870) - Champaign, Ill. Television: Big Ten Network. Home Record: Minnesota 0-6, Illinois 4-1. Away Record: Minnesota 1-3 Illinois 1-2. Neutral Record: Minnesota 0-0, Illinois 0-1. Conference Record: Minnesota 0-6, Illinois 3-3. Series Record: Minnesota leads, 32-28-3.

GAME NOTES: Needing just one win to become bowl eligible, the Illinois Fighting Illini welcome the struggling Minnesota Golden Gophers to Champaign for this Saturday's Big Ten Conference clash.

The Gophers come into this contest hoping to put the brakes on a nine-game losing streak, during which head coach Tim Brewster was relieved of his duties and Jeff Horton handed the job on an interim basis.

Minnesota's most recent setback occurred last weekend on the road, as Michigan State claimed a 31-8 victory. The Gophers are 0-6 in the Big Ten, and with only games against Illinois and Iowa left on the docket, it won't be easy securing that elusive first conference win.

Illinois came out on the short end of the highest scoring game in Big Ten history last week, as it fell in triple-overtime to Michigan, 67-65. The loss put an end to the team's modest two-game win streak, and dropped its record in league play to an even 3-3.

The Illini are 4-1 at home this season, with their only loss at Memorial Stadium coming against No. 2 Ohio State (24-13) back on Oct. 2.

Minnesota owns a 32-28-3 edge in the all-time series with Illinois, but the Illini have won two of the last three meetings, including a 35-32 decision last year in Minneapolis.

As has been the case pretty much all season long, Minnesota QB Adam Weber had a lackluster day in last week's loss at Michigan State, throwing for 167 yards with a TD and an INT. He hit Duane Bennett a game-high seven times for 57 yards, and fellow pass catchers Da'Jon McKnight and Eric Lair also finished with more than 50 receiving yards. McKnight has now caught at least one pass in 15 consecutive games, while Lair has a grab in every contest this season.

As a result of gaining only 76 yards on the ground last week, the Gophers saw their season rushing average dip to 127.1 ypg (10th in the conference), and they have scored a league-low eight rushing TDs through 10 games. DeLeon Eskridge, who averages just 55.4 ypg, gained a mere 31 yards on 17 attempts against the Spartans, who were credited with eight TFLs on the day, but only one of which was a sack.

The Spartans used a bruising rushing attack to pummel the Gophers into submission last week, as MSU's Edwin Baker ran for 179 yards and four TDs. The Minnesota defense was credited with six TFLs on the day, but recorded just one sack and only one takeaway.

Minnesota is led on defense by Gary Tinsley, who has 74 tackles, one sack and an INT. A lack of pressure at the point of attack has led to a scant five sacks for the season, giving the Gophers the fewest of the 120 teams calling the Football Bowl Subdivision home.

Illinois QB Nathan Scheelhaase threw for 211 yards and three TDs, while RB Mikel LeShoure accounted for five scores (three rushing, two receiving) in last week's gut-wrenching loss to Michigan. LeShoure and Scheelhaase combined to rush for 221 yards on the day, while Jarred Fayson was the team's leading receiver with five grabs for 79 yards. The Illini wound up with 561 yards of total offense, but 10 penalties proved costly.

Through nine games, Sheelhaase has completed 60.7 percent of his passes for 1,310 yards, 13 TDs and seven INTs. LeShoure accounts for an even 100 ypg and has nine rushing TDs, while A.J. Jenkins and Fayson own a combined 67 catches for 776 yards and five scores. As a result, Illinois puts up 31.1 ppg behind 362.3 ypg, and the Illini currently rank fourth in the conference in rushing (207.8 ypg) and first in red-zone offense (34-of-36)

Despite being torched in last week's game, the UI defense came up with five turnovers and got double-digit tackle efforts from both Martez Wilson (11) and Nate Bussey (10). When the dust had settled, Michigan rolled up 676 total yards, including 419 through the air, and scored on all seven of its trips to the red zone.

So far this season, Illinois is allowing 22.3 points and 343 total yards per game. Foes are running the ball for 133 ypg, and they have scored just eight rushing TDs in nine outings. UI's effort against the pass typically yields 210 ypg, and the opposition has 14 aerial scores to its credit. Wilson is 22 tackles ahead of his closest teammate on the team's tackles list, as he has 79 total stops, of which 6.5 have been for negative yardage. Trulon Henry has three INTs for the Illini, who have a total of 20 takeaways on the season.

Illinois should win this game going away, as the hard-luck Gophers are simply playing out the season. Sure they'd love to win their last two, but they simply lack the talent, depth and at this point know-how, to pull off the upset.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Illinois 37, Minnesota 17

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