Daily Breakdown: Minnesota significant favorites against Illinois

Minnesota is going for 5-0 against a team coming off two consecutive losses.

Nick Jungheim

Off to its first 4-0 start since 2013, Minnesota will look to improve that record this weekend in its homecoming showdown.

The Gophers will square off against an Illinois team that is 2-2, coming off back-to-back losses against Eastern Michigan and Nebraska.

However, the Illini’s offense has been potent this season, scoring 35.5 points per game. Coming off a bye week, they will attempt to replicate the success they had in a 55-31 victory over Minnesota a season ago.

When Minnesota runs the ball:

The Gophers’ rushing attack is off to a slow start, averaging 115.8 yards per game. Last week against Purdue, redshirt senior Rodney Smith totaled 115 yards on 22 carries. Redshirt senior Shannon Brooks returned last week after missing the first three games of the season with an injury, running for five yards on as many attempts. However, he’s expected to see an increase in carries this week.

Illinois’ rushing defense currently ranks No. 61 in the nation, around the middle of the pack for Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS), allowing 146 rush yards per game but only 3.42 yards per carry. However, they allowed 346 yards on the ground in their Big Ten opener against Nebraska. 

Advantage: Minnesota

Matchup to watch: RB Rodney Smith vs. LB Dele Harding

When Illinois runs the ball:

Last season, Illinois had their way against Minnesota when running the ball, racking up 430 yards. Senior running back Reggie Corbin is a shifty ball carrier the Gophers will focus on trying to contain. Corbin currently ranks third in the Big Ten with 7.1 yards per attempt.

Minnesota has shown significant improvement against the run from the meeting between these teams a year ago. The Gophers are currently ranked No. 37 in rushing defense. However, they face a tough task against Corbin and fellow senior Dre Brown. In order to slow them down, the front seven will have to tackle well and prevent the backs from breaking into the second level.

Advantage: Illinois

Matchup to watch: RB Reggie Corbin vs. LB Kamal Martin

When Minnesota passes the ball:

Quarterback Tanner Morgan is having a breakout season with the help of receivers Tyler Johnson and Rashod Bateman. Against Purdue last week, Morgan set a Big Ten pass completion percentage record, completing 21 of 22 passes. For his performance, he earned Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week honors. Johnson is having a productive year in his senior season with 25 receptions for 312 yards and 4 touchdowns, while Bateman is experiencing similar success with 21 catches for 466 yards and 4 scores of his own.

Illinois’ defensive backs figure to have their hands full defending Minnesota’s receivers. The Fighting Illini rank No. 102 in pass defense, allowing 13.4 yards per reception and 261.8 yards per game.

Advantage: Minnesota

Matchup to watch: WR Tyler Johnson vs DB Jartavius Martin

When Illinois passes the ball:

Junior quarterback Brandon Peters leads the Illinois passing attack. In his first season with the team after transferring from Michigan, Peters is putting together a solid campaign with 765 yards and 10 touchdowns to just three interceptions. His favorite target has been junior Ricky Smalling, who has 21 receptions. Junior Josh Imatorbhebhe is another weapon, having scored four touchdowns on the season and averaging 17.55 yards per catch.

In the secondary, the Gophers feature a trio of experienced corner backs and redshirt sophomore Antoine Winfield Jr. who is one of the best players in the Big Ten at the safety position. While Minnesota isn’t an elite pass defense, ranked No. 53 in FBS, they will still be the toughest matchup Illinois has faced thus far this season.

Advantage: Minnesota

Matchup to watch: WR Josh Imatorbhebhe vs. DB Kiondre Thomas

Prediction:

Minnesota 35, Illinois 27

The Gophers have played close games but found ways to win all season long as favorites. Saturday’s forecast calls for a chance of rain during the game, which could favor Illinois’ run game and add an element of unpredictability.

This has the potential to be another closer-than-expected result for Minnesota, but ultimately Morgan and the receivers should be too much for the Fighting Illini’s secondary to handle.

Everything else you need to know

Starting time: 2:30 p.m. CST, Saturday, Oct. 5

TV Network: BTN

Radio: KFAN 100.3 FM

Line: Minnesota by 14