We made it through the bye week. The Illinois Fighting Illini are back at Memorial Stadium for Homecoming as they're set to take on the Minnesota Golden Gophers. Let's give a warm welcome to GopherNation of The Daily Gopher as he joins us to answer our questions.
1. With a record of 6-1 (3-0), #24 Minnesota currently sits atop the Big Ten West standings. Has the team's performance thus far come as a surprise, or did you expect to have a good season? Also, do you think the Gophers can make it to Indy?
I don't really think this is a huge shock to people who have been paying attention to the program. The Michigan win would have been largely unexpected in August, but the rest of the schedule was fairly predictable. The three non-conference wins were expected as were the wins over Purdue and Northwestern at home. I think everyone expected this team to be a little better than last year's version. Did we expect to be alone in first place atop the Big Ten West? I don't think so. And the road to the Big Ten Title game is still rather difficult and we have a long ways to go. After our trip to Illinois we host Iowa and OSU. Then we take trips to Nebraska and Wisconsin. Can they do it? I do think it is possible to get the necessary wins but they have a number of much more challenging hurdles to get over, I wouldn't call them the favorite and I'm not booking my Indy hotels.
2. I was shocked to see that Minnesota only opened as a 6.5 point favorite for Saturday. In your opinion, what does Illinois need to do to get the W on Saturday?
I don't really know cause it will be a strength on strength match-up when the Illini offense is on the field. Minnesota's pass defense is actually quite good, do not believe the pass yards allowed per game to fool you. On the flip side Minnesota's rushing offense should be able to rack up a lot of yards against a weak Illinois rush defense. I think if the Gophers play their ball-control offense plus winning field position plus making teams execute long offensive drives if they want to score...they will win. Illinois is going to have to create turnovers and take advantage of them.
3. Who are Minnesota's offensive weapons?
Running back David Cobb and tight end Maxx Williams are the primary offensive weapons. Mitch Leidner has become much more dependable at quarterback and has made a number of big plays in the three Big Ten games we have played but the two guys you should be most worried about are Cobb and Williams. Cobb is a very tough runner and though he doesn't quite get the publicity of Gordon/Abdullah/Coleman he isn't very far behind them in terms of talent and production. You will see him a LOT on Saturday and then you will see some play-action to Williams down the sideline or up the seem.
4. Do the Gophers have any players on the defensive side that Illini fans should worry about?
Damien Wilson at MLB and Eric Murray at corner stand out but this defense is really one that is very good as a complete unit. Wilson leads the Big Ten in tackles and he is rarely cheated on getting a good a nice hit on ball-carriers. He is always around the ball and is the best linebacker you've never heard of. Eric Murray is a very good, cover-corner (Mel Kiper recently ranked as the #5 CB for the upcoming NFL Draft). These guys are the ones the defense counts on the most but the entire secondary is actually pretty talented and is the strength of this D.
5. What's your opinion of Illinois heading into this game? Which players on our side do you view as the biggest threat?
I really don't see anybody on the offensive side that screams we must stop this guy if we want to win the game. After watching the Purdue game, the only thing that really concerns me is if Illinois can get into a rhythm on offense that keeps the Gopher defense on their heels and a little confused. But even then it was the Boiler rushing attack to the edges that really gashed the Gopher D not their passing game which still struggled to make any big plays.
6. What’s your prediction for Saturday’s matchup?
My prediction is a Gopher win. They will control the clock with a lot of runs followed by more runs and then maybe a play-action sprinkled in on occasion. I think most people who are unfamiliar with this current squad think this is the same old Gopher team, but this team is actually pretty good. They are not elite and they are capable of losing to anybody. But so far they have consistently done the things necessary to win. They have been able to execute their game plan and it has been successful in every game except the trip to TCU. I don't foresee Illinois being the second team to force the Gophers to do uncharacteristic things and force them out of their game plan.
Thanks again to GopherNation for taking the time to answer our questions! Make sure to check out The Daily Gopher for more coverage as we approach Saturday's game.