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Illinois Fighting Illini vs. Minnesota Gophers: Preview, predictions and prognostications

When: Sat. Nov 21; Noon ET
Where: Minneapolis, MN; TCF Bank Stadium (50,720)
All-Time Series: Minnesota leads 35-29-3
Last Meeting: Illinois won 28-24 (Nov. 25, 2014)
Line: Minnesota -7

It’s that time of year when one game can make the difference between a good season and a disappointing one. Such is the case in Minneapolis where both teams are hovering around mediocre close to .500. Tracy Claeys is still looking for his first Big Ten victory since being named the full-time head man. His teams have played competitive against quality competition, but the Gophers have yet to break through.

For interim head man Bill Cubit, a win would move him closer to having the temporary tag removed from his name. His teams have played fairly well considering all the road construction signs in and around the program, but there’s a  lack of a statement win, and a loack of consistency. It’d be nice to makek progress towards that Saturday.

1 Burning Question: Bowling anyone?

Neither team has yet to qualify for a bowl, but both still can. Illinois can do so with a win today or next week, while the Gophers need to sweep their last two here and then next week against Wisconsin. There is an outside chance that a 5-7 team can get into a bowl, but that won’t be a measure of success for both programs looking to take a step forward.

2 Key Stats:

— 140.7. That’s the amount of yards rushing for Minnesota per game. While it doesn’t sound horrible, it’s not enough to control games like the Gopher teams of the past. There’s a lack of play-making ability on the outside, so it’s crucial for them to try to get some tough yards on the ground to try and move the chains.

— 131.9. That’s also the average yards rushing per game on the ground, but for Illinois. That number has been so much better with Josh Ferguson in the mix, so his presence needs to create that balance on the ground to loosen up a good Minnesota secondary.

3 Key Players:

Josh Ferguson, Illinois RB: He’s the engine that makes the Illini motor go. With him, Illinois has a game-breaker that can not only get yards on the ground, but who can be a matchup nightmare out in space. He could be the difference in this one.

Mitch Leidner, Minnesota QB: The numbers haven’t been great for Leidner, but he’s been improving over the last few weeks, creating some semblance of a passing game for a Gopher team that has had issues moving the ball. In a game that will likely be a gound affair, the quarterback that can have the most productive day through the air, might will his team to a win. Leidner has had the better go of it the last few weeks than his counterpart Wes Lunt.

K.J. Maye, Minnesota, WR: Part of the reason Leidner has experienced a bump in production is because of the emergence of K.J. Maye. If you watched the Minnesota/Michigan game, you saw what type of hands and play-making skills the former running back can display, and at crucial times. He might be big on third downs.

4 Bold Prognostications:

— Josh Ferguson will go for over 100 yards on the ground, and over 50 receiving. He’s going to be featured big time in this one both swinging the ball out wide and taking handoffs to make plays and keep the chains moving. He’ll have a big day.

— It’ll be a low scoring affair. It’s late November in Minneapolis, so there’s no surprise that the weather is crisp. In November in the north, passing becomes much more difficult meaning both teams will likely keep it on the ground. Both offenses will be fairly predictable meaning real-estate will be tough to find. Scoring will be at a premium.

— We’ll see at least three interceptions in the game. Both teams will be forced to throw at times in third and long situations, and with the predictability and weather, some mistakes will be made.

— Special teams will win the game. This game will be close throughout with both teams looking to find lanes to run in a slug ’em out type of game. Field position will be huge to swing the balance in this one with little offense. A big return, a field goal, or a block in the kicking game will prove vital.

5 Staff Predictions:

Andy: Minnesota 27-21 (78-20 overall; 46-51 ATS)
Dave: Minnesota 34-23 (81-17 overall; 51-45 ATS)
Greg: Minnesota 27-17 (74-26 overall; 54-42 ATS)
Matt: Minnesota 31-28 (79-19 overall; 56-40 ATS)
Phil: Minnesota 22-20 (33-12 overall; 15-27 ATS) *joined in Week 5


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