Michael Berns: The Gophers and Illini have something in common: Both have just one Big Ten win this season. For how injury-ridden Minnesota is, they’ve actually been better than expected. Minnesota’s confidence is high after last Friday’s dramatic, comeback win over Indiana. Illinois is coming off of another painful, lowest-of-lows loss. The Illini D is historically bad and it shows again. Minnesota 30, Illinois 14
Thumpasaurus: My predictions haven’t made it into this article series lately, but in all my predictions since the Rutgers game, I’ve predicted Illinois to lose convincingly and they’ve managed to do MUCH worse. The defense for the Gophers has been fairly solid all year, especially against the run. Indiana was able to move the ball in the second half by virtue of some great throws by Peyton Ramsey and some good receiver play to catch contested balls in traffic. The Gophers stuffed the run and flushed Ramsey from the pocket, and he made too many mistakes in the first half (first three quarters) to overcome with a brilliant fourth quarter. Using the same strategy against AJ Bush will result in a performance like we saw in the Purdue game. Bush has shown absolutely no ability to make throws outside the pocket that aren’t complete abominations, and Rivers has shown a tendency to hold the ball too long. On top of that, receivers haven’t been getting open or winning battles for contested balls. Still, the offense will have more success against Minnesota than the defense.
Minnesota has found a quarterback in Tanner Morgan that is much more capable than Zack Annexstad. The Gophers running game is usually solid no matter who’s healthy enough to carry the rock; although Nebraska was able to slow it down, Ohio State couldn’t. The Fighting Illini haven’t been able to stop anyone with a pulse from running the ball, and though Minnesota’s lack of speed backs compared to Maryland may give a bit more margin for error, the Gopher passing game has been far superior to that of the Terps. Tyler Johnson is a big-time playmaker and the Illini secondary will lose track of him several times over the course of the game. Indiana forced some mistakes in the second half by bringing pressure and forcing Morgan to make quick decisions, but this approach also caused them to give up the decisive touchdown.
I feel absolutely sick about this prediction, because three weeks ago I would have called this a great chance for a season-defining win. This defense is unforgivable, and the only way it can improve now is if it turns out Lovie was really letting Nickerson do his own thing, but in the wake of his resignation, Lovie splashed some water on his face, looked in the mirror and resolved to go to unprecedented lengths to fix this defense. This, however, is a flight of fancy. Minnesota 55, Illinois 23
Both teams only have one Big Ten win but both seem to be headed in opposite directions. Minnesota has looked ok recently in a loss at Ohio State and a thrilling win over Indiana. Illinois, on the other hand, seems to be on the cusp of bottoming out again(How is it possible to bottom out so consistently???). However, if there is someone who ruffles Lovie’s feathers, it is PJ Fleck. I doubt anyone in Champaign has forgotten Fleck’s constant ribbing of Lovie everytime Fleck signed an Illinois recruit. So, I expect Illinois to come out fired up and leave it all on the table in this one. The Illini gives us a performance to be proud of but still fall short. Minnesota 38 Illinois 35
Even my inner self, who just desperately wants to see the Illini have a fighter’s chance at six wins, can’t see this game being close. Lovie wouldn’t say how much changes with him running the defense, but my guess is not much. I don’t think MJ Rivers plays, so maybe we see Coran Taylor for the first time all year. Probably not though. Either way, another disappointing loss in front of the home fans to drive them away before Senior Day for the six seniors on the team…. The only six this team will see this year. Minnesota 42, Illinois 21
I saw a video on Twitter earlier this week where Sydney Brown said that they were going to be as motivated as ever this coming weekend against Minnesota. I believe him; he was poised and well-spoken. What I don’t believe in is how this defensive system has been working. It is fairly possible that once Lovie gets more hands-on with the defense in Hardy Nickerson’s absence that things improve, but I am not sure that we have the speed at linebacker or edge rusher for the tampa two defense to work in college. MJ Rivers was severely concussed last week on a cheap shot from none other than Tre Watson, so it’s back to the AJ Bush show. That means we’ll either put on a show in the ground game or never get going offensively. The latter seems more likely. Minnesota 38, Illinois 17
Dammit man, I still can’t believe I’m going to say this but...Illinois will win this game. Book it. (ducks). I see AJ Bush being competent enough to run the offense and score touchdowns rather than field goals (please). I see Reggie Corbin going bananas against a depleted and young Minnesota defense. I see Lovie making enough defensive adjustments to eke out a shootout. Or maybe I’m dreaming all of this. Maybe Minnesota will destroy us. Don’t turn this into a nightmare, Illinois. It might be your last chance at a win. Illinois 38 Minnesota 35