Illinois travels to Minneapolis to take on the Golden Gophers this Saturday. Here are some of the key matchups we are watching out for this week.
Lovie Smith’s cool,calm, collected demeanor vs. PJ Fleck’s energy-to-the-max
Intensity and a passion for success manifests itself in many different ways. Lovie Smith’s soothing voice and Row The Boat coach PJ Fleck do that in polar opposite ways.
These two actually met just last season when Fleck’s Western Michigan Broncos trounced the Illinois Fighting Illini in Champaign 34-10. Before that game Fleck was already on the radar of some bigger programs, but wins over “Big Ten big boys” Illinois and Northwestern last season, and an almost-win against Wisconsin solidified his case to take over a Power Five team.
#illini Lovie: Minnesota has a lot of same personnel we played last year. Also playing WMU, we're familiar with their schemes.— Jeremy Werner (@JWernerScout) October 16, 2017
Illinois’ defensive backs vs. Minnesota wide receiver Tyler Johnson
Sophomore Tyler Johnson is a rare, talented breed of the type of wide receiver Minnesota wants. Listed as an “athlete” coming out of high school, Johnson held scholarship offers from other Big Ten schools including Iowa and Wisconsin. A native of Minneapolis, Minnesota, Johnson decided to stay close to home to play his college football.
Johnson was a total beast against Michigan State at home last week. He had eight catches for 106 yards and three touchdowns in a losing effort.
Illinois is hoping cornerbacks Nate Hobbs and Jaylen Dunlap are up to the challenge of locking down Tyler Johnson and preventing any big plays down the field.
Illinois’ shambolic run-defense vs. Minnesota RB duo Rodney Smith/Shannon Brooks
Illinois was atrocious at stopping the run against Rutgers. Even against a team the Illini supposedly had a distinct athletic advantage against, poor tackling doomed any chance of a comeback against Rutgers.
It only gets harder in Week 8. Meet the Minnesota two-headed monster of a run-game in Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks. Rodney Smith has more carries and yards. Shannon Brooks has the higher average yards per carry and more touchdowns. Both will get their fair share of carries against the Illini, and neither are much of a threat in the passing game.
Thanks for the conversation and insight from former colleague and Gophers supporter/Minneapolis radio personality Brad Omland.