It’s Homecoming week for the Fighting Illini as they welcome the Minnesota Golden Gophers to Memorial Stadium.
If the Illini win this game, they’re set up well to win the B1G West. For that to happen, the Illini must do the following:
Of course, give it to the Heisman candidate
The health of starting quarterback Tommy DeVito is unknown. Even if he does play, his mobility will be hindered by his ankle injury.
Now, DeVito is no running quarterback, but he has been able to pick up a few key first downs on runs this year. And we can’t forget his three rushing touchdowns against Wisconsin.
DeVito’s running impediments aside, his injury likely makes him a bit less effective in the passing game: we don’t know how well he can push off his ankle when he’s throwing.
Which means this: the Illini will rely, as usual, on the legs of Chase Brown, the NCAA’s leading rusher. Minnesota is going to stack the box, forcing whoever is under center—DeVito or backup Art Sitkowski—to beat them.
Lean on the other skill players (if they’re healthy)
Another factor for the Illini offense is the health of two players: leading WR Isaiah Williams (who left the Iowa game with a concussion) and backup running back Josh McCray.
If Williams is back, then the Illini will gain their most explosive playmaker. If they get McCray back, then Brown gets help in wearing out the Big Ten’s #2 scoring defense.
Josh McCray is in uniform for warm-ups for the #illini pic.twitter.com/uJJ3CpjTZD— Joey Wagner (@mrwagner25) October 8, 2022
But none of this matters if DeVito/Sitkowski can’t protect the ball, and make a few huge plays.
No “Mo” Gopher Offense
The defense will also have to make some big plays. Minnesota has the B1G’s second-leading rusher: Mohamed “Mo” Ibrahim. Though Ibrahim is battling his own ankle injury, he’s expected to play on Saturday.
Ibrahim is a huge reason why the Gophers lead the NCAA in time of possession (37:41 per game, on average).
The Illini need to mirror Minnesota’s likely game plan and stack the box. Let Tanner Morgan beat you. His receiving corps is nothing to write home about: their leading wideout, Michael Brown-Stephens, only has 15 catches on the season for 233 yards.
This is a scary game. Minnesota Head Coach P. J. Fleck is an Illinois native who desperately wanted the job that ended up going to Tim Beckman in 2011. In recent years he’s been well known for whisking Illinois high schoolers up to the Twin Cities.
Fleck and his players will be looking for revenge from last year’s game, which the Illini won 14-6 in Minneapolis.
To prevent that, the Illini need to get ahead early behind the efforts of Brown and McCray. If the Illini get behind, the Golden Gophers will certainly use Ibrahim to burn the clock.
Let’s make sure that doesn’t happen—and that Fleck and his crew have to row the boat back to Minnesota.