For this weekly column, the Minnesota Daily interviews someone knowledgeable on the Gophers’ next opponent. This week’s opponent is Illinois.
This week, the Daily interviewed the Daily Illini sports editor Cole Henke. He is a senior at the University of Illinois, and has worked at the Daily Illini since his freshman year.
Illinois hasn’t fared well in conference play yet this season [as] they are 0-3. What has their gameplay been like these last three games?
It’s been really rough. I don’t know very many people who expected them to be good in conference play. I think a lot of people had them beating Rutgers. Everybody else, they didn’t think they’d win, but thought they’d play better than this. No facet of their game has really been clicking, and they know that. They’re the first group to tell you that. They’re playing a whole lot of new people who are still adjusting to the game, and you can tell. They have a lot of room to get better. It’s taking a lot more time, I think, than what fans were hoping.
The Illini won their first two games of the season; what looked different from the wins to the losses?
The first game against Ball State, it was actually really close. I know a lot of people that were really nervous about that one. They ended up pulling that out just by sheer talent and the playmaking ability of [their] best players. That game came down to just [their] upperclassmen really making plays. The second game against Western Kentucky was just all [Illinois’] defense. The defense [played] by far their best game of the season. The Illinois defense dominated them, and everybody thought that was a sign of things to come, but it ended up really not being that.
Illinois only won three games all of last season; is it looking more similar to that result now, six games in?
I personally don’t have them winning another game. Looking at their schedule, I just think it’s too tough down the road, and I didn’t have them beating Western Kentucky at the beginning of the year. It’s not that they’re not talented enough; as a team, they’re not quite meshing the way they need to. Since there’s so many new guys playing, there’s just a lot of players flying in and out.
Lovie Smith is in his second season coaching the team; his record is 5-13. How would you evaluate his performance as head coach?
Personally, I think he has done a very good job. His first recruiting class, just seeing them play out there, they’re maybe making some mistakes that upperclassmen would not make on the field, but the talent he’s put out there, you can see that these are good football players, and they’re great athletes.
Who is the most underrated guy on the team?
I’m going to go with [wide receiver] Malik Turner. He’s a very quiet guy. I haven’t been seeing his name pop up that much, mainly because [they] haven’t been able to throw the ball really far down the field. [The] offensive line has been struggling, which isn’t giving [quarterbacks] Jeff George [Jr.] or Chayce Crouch, back a few weeks ago, much time to think about throwing the ball deep.
Most effective player on offense?
Most effective player on defense?
Tre Watson, if he plays.
What will Illinois’ record be at the end of the season?
What will their conference record be?
Prediction for the score of the game Saturday?