Gophers focused on Juice’s flow

Minnesota pulled out a win last year, but the dual-threat QB could pose problems.

Gophers focused on Juice's flow

Josh Katzenstein

After MinnesotaâÄôs strongest offensive performance of 2009 in a 42-34 victory over Michigan State last Saturday, Illinois visits for its first look at TCF Bank Stadium in a battle between teams that have stolen each otherâÄôs homecoming the past two seasons. The Gophers (5-4 overall, 3-3 Big Ten) wonâÄôt be the only team riding a wave of momentum into SaturdayâÄôs 11 a.m. contest. The Illini (2-6, 1-5) earned their first Football Bowl Subdivision win with a 38-13 home thrashing of Michigan last Saturday. While the game pits the two worst scoring offenses in the Big Ten against each other, neither seemed to recognize its offensive impotence in SaturdayâÄôs games. For the Gophers, junior quarterback Adam Weber returned to form last weekend, throwing for 416 yards and five touchdowns to help lead MinnesotaâÄôs fifth comeback victory of the season . The captainâÄôs performance came after consecutive road losses to Penn State and Ohio State, where the team accounted for a combined seven points. As for the Illini, senior Juice Williams showed what he can do as a dual-threat quarterback against the Wolverines. After being benched earlier in the season in favor of junior Eddie McGee, Williams quickly earned back the starting job. Against the Wolverines, he accounted for 123 passing yards and 97 rushing yards, converting touchdowns through both means. Last season, the Gophers managed to pull out a 27-20 victory in Champaign, but Williams put up strong numbers in lieu of the loss. Known more as a mobile quarterback, Williams threw for 462 yards. The Minnesota defense knows stopping Williams could be the key to a win Saturday. âÄúHeâÄôs fast enough to run away from us and has a pretty good arm, so hopefully we can make him make some mistakes and take advantage of it,âÄù Gophers safety Kim Royston said, who saw Williams while playing for Wisconsin. The key to stopping Williams is âÄúkeeping him in front of us,âÄù senior defensive tackle Garrett Brown said. Brown shared Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week honors with WisconsinâÄôs Chris Borland for his game against the Spartans, which included seven tackles (three for loss), a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Despite giving up 34 points, Brown said he likes where the defense is heading. âÄúTheyâÄôre an explosive offense, and our defense is playing well right now,âÄù Brown said. âÄúWe just need to make sure that weâÄôre ready for Juice and those guys.âÄù Although Minnesota head coach Tim Brewster said he is looking at Illinois as another Big Ten game, he doesnâÄôt deny that emotions may play a role when he tries to take down the team that he helped lead to the 1984 Rose Bowl as a player . âÄúObviously when you play against a school that you went to, thereâÄôs a little something there. I mean, it would be foolish to say there wouldnâÄôt be,âÄù Brewster said. âÄúYou know, itâÄôs like playing your brother in basketball in the backyard or something like that, you know. You want to win.âÄù Illinois may look to exploit the Gophers run defense. Behind Williams, Mikel LeShoure and Jason Ford , the Illini accounted for 377 rushing yards against Michigan . Minnesota enters the game ranked 10th in the Big Ten in run defense, and the Gophers have proven apt to give up big yardage on the ground. In losses to Wisconsin and Ohio State, the Gophers gave up 295 and 270 rushing yards , respectively. Cal running back Jahvid Best also blew by the Minnesota defense, scoring five touchdowns on 131 yards. Behind head coach Ron Zook, the Illini have yet to win a road game as they visit TCF Bank Stadium for the second of three games in the current Gophers homestand. The past two years have shown that fighting home crowds has not been an issue for either team, but Brewster said the crowd helped the team against Michigan State and likely will be an aide in this game as well. âÄúFrom the Gopher Victory Walk through the game, I thought our crowd was absolutely awesome. They were our 12th man,âÄù he said. âÄúThatâÄôs what weâÄôve been dreaming of for 28 years at the University of Minnesota, is to be back at home on campus and our crowd really giving us a tremendous lift and support.âÄù Kickoff is scheduled for 11 a.m., and the game will be broadcast on Big Ten Network.