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Illinois Football Week Eight Preview: Minnesota Golden Gophers

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They're going to run the ball. We cannot stop them.

Aaron Bailey just patented the "Falling Heisman" pose.
Aaron Bailey just patented the "Falling Heisman" pose.
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

THE WHEN AND WHERE

Game: Minnesota Golden Gophers (-6.5) vs. Illinois Fighting Illini

Time: 11:00 AM Central Time - Saturday, October 25th

Place: Memorial Stadium - Champaign, Illinois

TV: ESPNU - Clay Matvick and Anthony Becht (NOT MOWINS/GALLOWAY!!!)

THE UNIFORMS

If you don't think these are cool, I don't think you're cool. And don't give me any stupid stuff about "The team sucks, we should focus on the team sucking not the dumb uniforms." Nobody says a struggling team can't look good. Just ask Northwestern. (Yes, Northwestern fans, I know.)

THE GAME POSTER

We're debuting this new feature this week. Hopefully, we'll have one of these every week in the future. Next week's is a dandy, so be sure to check it out and share it and maybe make it your desktop background. Aaron did an awesome job with this first one.

Illinois/Minnesota Game Poster

THE INJURY REPORT

#12 Wes Lunt - Out
#28 Jaylen Dunlap - Out
#34 Mike Svetina - Out
#64 Steve Dumezich - Out
#6 Carroll Phillips - Out for Season
#35 Sean White - Out for Season
#66 Scott McDowell - Out for Season
#93 Teko Powell - Out for Season

So now Teko and Carroll Phillips (!?!) are officially out for the season. That sucks. Dunlap remains out, as does Svetina and obviously Lunt.

THE THEM

THE OFFENSE

Stop me if you've heard any part of this story before: this week, Illinois will take on a fellow Big Ten team with an absurdly talented running back (and an excellent running game in general), a questionable passing game, and a strong defense. Yeah, it feels like I write that almost every week.

The man who will run for a minimum of 150 yards against the Illini this week is David Cobb, currently fourth in the nation in rushing yards per game (144.71 ypg). He's both fast and powerful, and he's going to run through attempted tackles as well as any other running back has against the Illini this year. Cobb may not have the vision of a back like Ameer Abdullah (who does, honestly) but he has more power. Expect at least 150 yards, and I'd wager he eclipses 200 on the day.

If he's not the one carrying the ball, you can expect it to be one of two back-ups: Berkley Edwards or Donnell Kirkwood. Both of these guys are good, but you have to expect Edwards to look really, really fast (coincidentally he is really, really fast). Think Raheem Mostert. Remember that dude from Purdue? We might see the second coming of Ginormous Play #1 this Saturday.

Mitch Leidner will be be under center for the Gophers this Saturday. He's a talented runner but not one that should be able to break any big plays. He can keep on the read option effectively but I'd be surprised to see him do much else in the way of running. Throwing-wise, he's another "meh" passer with a decent weapon on the outside and not much else to mention.

That weapon is tight end Maxx(xxxxxxxxxx) Williams, who's currently 18th in receiving yards per game in the Big Ten. That's not all that special at first glance, but Minnesota rarely passes and Williams is still the highest ranking tight end in the B1G. He's got big play ability up the seam and will probably break a big one against the Illini because c'mon man everybody breaks one against the Illini. Aside from that, the passing attack isn't too special. They don't throw often, and when they do it's probably play action and it's probably going to be pretty effective because the Illini will be selling out against the run.

THE DEFENSE

Take it away, GopherNation of The Daily Gopher:

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.

Having read this, I was a bit surprised to see Minnesota's defense ranked 26th in run defense and 42nd in pass defense per Bill Connelly's S&P+ rankings. Obviously 42nd is still very solid, much better than anything Illinois has put together recently, but not quite as good as their run defense appears.

How will the Illini attack this defense? I know this section is supposed to focus on the Gophers, but damnit the prospect of our offense is just more interesting than they are this week. Let's talk about us. Because we can, and because I was too busy earlier this week to write a SBD post about the future of the offense.

Tim Beckman said Monday that he expects Reilly O'Toole and Aaron Bailey to split snaps based upon a predetermined distribution. As in, Aaron Bailey will go out for the first drive and play until the point when O'Toole was told he would play (let's say the third drive, for example). This is stupid and I hope it's not true.

Why not just go with Bailey at this point? I don't mind O'Toole getting a play or two if you're looking to run some craziness, but splitting snaps between the two seems dumb. O'Toole is almost the past at this point and Bailey is fighting to become a bigger part of the future. Let the kid play and let him play the whole game. I'm not even a huge Bailey fanboy like seemingly everybody else on the internet, but if Wes Lunt is out then he deserves the chance to play, even if he couldn't beat O'Toole out in camp. Bailey's redshirt is (sadly) burnt at this point, so you might as well put him out there and see what he can do with a game-plan all his own.

Anyway, we know what the offense should look like with O'Toole on the field. With Bailey, the story will likely be very different. When AB is on the field, expect to see constant options plays-- zone, triple, speed, power. Any option play that comes to mind, the Illini will probably try to run it. They did that in stretches with Nate Scheelhaase last year, and Bailey is a much more talented runner than Nate. Cubit loves to get creative and this is a great opportunity to see what he can do with a quarterback who doesn't seem to be ready to read a defense on a consistent basis. I'm expecting the offense to struggle a bit this week, but let's hope these guys can prove me wrong.

THE NAME OF THE WEEK

There are few names better for a menacing defensive end than Theiren Cockran. There are other more unique names on the team, but none that fit quite as perfectly as this one. Honorable mentions go to Adekunle Ayinde and Jephete Matilus.

THE #FATGUYTOUCHDOWN UPDATE OF THE WEEK

From one month ago: =(

Jake Howe still has yet to make an appearance at fullback. This makes me sad. The saddest, in fact. The #FATGUYTOUCHDOWN Alert System is at #FATCON5 this week. Maybe a defensive tackle will have a pick six or something. Sadness.

THE FIVE KEY POINTS

1. Field position. Conceding that the Illini will probably not be able to stop the Gophers' rushing attack, it'll be of huge importance that they keep Minnesota far away from the end zone at the beginning of each of their drives. Hopefully, Justin Duvernois can continue his excellent season in spite of the likely winds. I'm forecasting a large quantity of punts this Saturday. (#B1G)

2. Creativity. Cubit has had two weeks to prepare an offense that will give Minnesota fits. Purdue laid out a nice blueprint the other day, but Illinois probably doesn't have the offensive line to run similar schemes (the question of the year is why we don't have the offensive line to run anything at all). I'm just hoping to see something that shows they put their all into trying to stump the Minnesota defense, even if the personnel isn't good enough to run it. Throw everything at them, including the kitchen sink.

3. Tackle. Illinois' run defense against Purdue was pretty good, if you don't count the 4-5 plays when Illini defenders found themselves in a great position to make a tackle and completely whiffed it and/or ran out of the way. Let's just stick with the good stuff this time. (There is a 0.0 percent chance the Illini stick to the good stuff this time.)

4. Make 'em throw. Personally, I won't mind if the Illini get beat deep a couple times on Saturday as long as they're committing safeties to stopping the run. If the coaches are putting everybody in a place near the line of scrimmage and forcing Leidner to beat them through the air (as much as possible, at least), then I'll be happy.

5. Don't get embarrassed. It's homecoming. Please don't get embarrassed? Just keep it under three scores.

THE PREDICTION

I'm not liking the looks of this one. You could potentially talk me into the Illini hanging around with Iowa or Penn State at this point, but Minnesota appears to actually be a bit improved from last year's team. In a down Big Ten, that's good enough for a division lead and very solid conference record thus far. I think we can go back to GopherNation's words from our "Behind Enemy Lines" preview for the most important part of this game:

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.

This is spot-on. The Illini probably won't be able to stop the run. Their best chance of winning outside of that is either getting into a shootout (praise Cubit, if so) or forcing turnovers (hahahahah yeah right) and finishing drives. The outlook on this one is not good, but I'm expecting the Illini to hang around for a minute or two and maybe score a garbage time touchdown. That has, after all, been Aaron Bailey's specialty thus far.

Minnesota Golden Gophers 37, Illinois Fighting Illini 24

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