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What Needs to Happen: Minnesota

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Illinois will need to regroup quickly and adapt to the departure of its defensive coordinator

NCAA Football: Illinois at Maryland Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Losing is tough on everyone.

As we all know, it’s tough on the fans, but at the end of the day we can go back to our lives and attempt to forget about college football for a short period of time. Coaches, administrators, and most of all the players do not have that luxury. They need to endure public scrutiny by the fans and tough questions from the media, all while getting ready to do their job and change the outcome next week.

The path to victory is always easier said in a “What Needs to Happen” post than done on the field, but that hasn’t been more the case during the Lovie Smith era than at this point.

Offense

Play to the strength of the quarterback

MJ Rivers left last week’s game against Maryland in the second quarter with a concussion, and as usual Lovie isn’t saying too much about who is going to play under center against Minnesota. Whoever it is, the gameplan must reflect their respective strengths.

As long as Rivers is completely cleared through the concussion protocol, Lovie will likely start him at quarterback. If he does end up playing, then the pass game will be the key to victory. Utilizing Trenard Davis will of course be a must, but Dominic Stampley also proved himself late in the game against Maryland and could see some success against Minnesota’s pass defense, which is #78 nationally in passing yards allowed.

If Rivers is unable to play then AJ Bush will need to start, but he must improve with regards to making correct reads and distributing the ball to his talented stable of backs on the ground. Reggie Corbin and Dre Brown are big play threats on any down, and Mike Epstein could also add a spark if he is cleared to play. However, Minnesota runs a much tighter run defense, listed at #25 in the country. If Bush isn’t able to get anything going on the ground, then it should be time to see what Matthew Robinson and possibly Coran Taylor can provide to this offense.

Defense

Don’t let the Gophers get momentum through the air

Zack Annexstad went 17 of 33 last week with three touchdowns and three interceptions in their 31-48 home loss to Iowa. Illinois’ coverage against Maryland’s passing attack left much to be desired last week, and drastic improvement is necessary. However, if the Illini can shut down Annexstad’s passing attack, then the Gophers could be in trouble. Minnesota is playing without star running back Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks. Mohamed Ibrahim led the Gophers with 13 carries for 62 yards last week.

Shutting down the pass is as much dependent on Illinois’ secondary tightening its coverage as it is on the defensive line generating pressure. Bobby Roundtree and co. must take advantage of this opportunity to disrupt the passing game. Fortunately, we’re starting to see some positive developments on that front:

Special Teams

Keep Chase McLaughlin off the field

Chase McLaughlin is an outstanding kicker, and his accolades speak for themselves. But the Illini won’t win this week unless they can get into the endzone. Special teams are critical, but a victory will require improvement from the offense, and significant improvement from the defense.

Blake Hayes needs to keep up the good work with punting duties, and the kickoff unit must be ready for some of McLaughlin’s kickoffs to not be immediate touchbacks. As long as coverage teams can correct whatever mistakes appeared last week, they should do enough to help the Illini win this game.

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