Minnesota (6-1) at Illinois (3-4) (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Memorial Stadium (60,670) -- Champaign, Illinois. Television: ESPNU. Home Record: Minnesota 5-0, Illinois 3-1. Away Record: Minnesota 1-1, Illinois 0-3. Neutral Record: Minnesota 0-0, Illinois 0-0. Conference Record: Minnesota 3-0, Illinois 0-3. Series Record: Minnesota leads, 35-28-3.
GAME NOTES: The Minnesota Golden Gophers will try to strengthen their postseason positioning on Saturday afternoon in a Big Ten Conference road tilt with Illinois at Memorial Stadium.
Minnesota moved into sole possession of first place in the Big Ten West Division, and claimed its first 3-0 start in conference play since 1990, with last week's 39-38 comeback win over Purdue. The Golden Gophers could really use another win here before heading into a November schedule that features Iowa and Ohio State, followed by trips to Nebraska and Wisconsin.
Illinois should be well-rested coming off a bye last week, and the fact that it is Homecoming should provide some extra juice. Prior to the week off, the Fighting Illini suffered their third straight loss, a 38-28 setback to Wisconsin in Madison. They are still searching for their first win in conference play.
Minnesota has won the last three meetings with Illinois, and leads the all- time series, 35-28-3.
Minnesota continues to rely heavily on the ground game, and not much else. The team ranks No. 25 in the nation in rushing offense (222.4 ypg), but only 109th in total offense (348.7 ypg). David Cobb is fifth in the nation in rushing with 144.7 ypg, and he ran for 194 yards and a touchdown in the win over Purdue. Mitch Leidner threw for 165 yards and two TDs, and he also ran for 84 yards and a score. Leidner has completed only 54.1 percent of his passes on the season.
Gophers senior safety Cedric Thompson had two interceptions; one on the game's first play that he returned to the two-yard line to set up an early TD, and later a diving pick with just over two minutes remaining to seal the outcome. Thompson was awarded the conference's Defensive Player of the Week award for his efforts.
Minnesota's defense as a whole stepped up late. Purdue QB Austin Appleby, after tossing three first-half TDs, completed only 4-of-10 attempts for 18 yards in the second half as Minnesota tightened up against the pass.
The Illinois offense is quite the opposite of Minnesota's, as the Fighting Illini boast the Big Ten's top-ranked passing offense (304.6 ypg), but are No. 115 in the nation in rushing (104.1 ypg). The unit took a hit with the loss of starting quarterback Wes Lunt, who is expected to miss 4-6 weeks with a fibula injury. His replacement, Reilly O'Toole, threw for only 96 yards last week against Wisconsin, but two of his 12 completions went for touchdowns.
Illinois also boasts a talented receiving corps led by junior Geronimo Allison, who is averaging 5.0 catches, 78.2 receiving yards and nearly a touchdown per game. He has seven plays of 20-plus yards. Freshman wideout Mike Dudek has 598 receiving yards on 37 catches this season and needs only 79 more yards to break Arrelious Benn's school record for receiving yards by a freshman (676, set in 2007). In addition, junior all-purpose back Josh Ferguson is one of only four FBS running backs with more than 450 rushing yards and 250 receiving yards on the season.
Defensively, the Illini are giving up an average of 36 ppg and an unsightly 271.1 ypg on the ground, which ranks 122nd nationally. Last week, they were gashed for 401 yards (8.5 ypc) and five scores on the ground by Wisconsin's top-ranked rushing attack. With Minnesota's capable ground game on tap, the unit must quickly regroup and find a way to clog up some running lanes, or it could be a long day.
This is an interesting matchup between contrasting offensive styles. Keep an eye on the turnover battle as Illinois is tied for 115th in the nation in turnover margin, whereas Minnesota is tied for 11th. The Gophers should be able to control the clock in this one, but they must be careful not to look ahead to next week's bye.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Minnesota 30, Illinois 17Game Date and Time
Saturday, October 25, 12 p.m. (ET).