Game time: Noon ET
Venue: Huntington Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, MN
Where to watch: ESPN2
Opening Odds at USA Sportsbooks
DraftKings: Minnesota -14.5
BetMGM: Minnesota -14.5
Caesars: Minnesota -14.5
Illinois: 3-6 (2-4 Big Ten)
No. 20 Minnesota: 6-2 (4-1 Big Ten)
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Illinois - Minnesota game preview and analysis
Illinois: lost 20-14 vs. Rutgers
Minnesota: won 41-14 at Northwestern
The Minnesota Golden Gophers will try to win their fifth straight game and move one step closer from clinching a conference championship spot when they host the Illinois Fighting Illini on Saturday.
Minnesota, coming off a 27-point win on the road against the Northwestern Wildcats, holds a one-game lead on Wisconsin, Purdue and Iowa in the Big Ten West. The Gophers already hold the tiebreaker on Purdue and will make a trip to Iowa next week.
This could be one of those potential look-ahead games for the Gophers as they’ve clawed back into the top-25 during this four-game winning streak. Despite losing star running back Mohamed Ibrahim back in Week 1, only to follow that with replacement Trey Potts down for the year, the Gophers’ running game continues to carry this program to a tremendous finish to the season.
Freshman Mar’Keise Irving and Ky Thomas combined for 216 yards and two touchdowns in Minnesota’s win over the Wildcats that was over by halftime. Quarterback Tanner Morgan had a pedestrian 134 yards but that’s all he needed because Minnesota’s defense held Northwestern to 241 total yards.
Not to mention Minnesota had the ball for 40:09, which normally dictates such a matchup.
As it pertains to Illinois, I can’t help but feel the Illini want to be up for this game and make a charge for a cover. But at the same time, this is still Illinois. It’s still a disappointing group that has yet to figure out how to capitalize off something that should be program-altering.
Perhaps this is more a reflection of the Penn State Nittany Lions and their fall from grace of being a top-10 team than Illinois. The Illini followed up their nine-overtime cluster of a win in Happy Valley with a six-point loss at home to the Rutgers Scarlet Knights last week.
Quarterback Artur Sitkowski is done for the year due to injury and senior Brandon Peters is now the signal caller going forward. He did well by going 14 of 19 for 190 yards and two touchdowns last week, but he got no help from his running game (107 yards toal on 30 carries). Rutgers ran all over the Illinois defense for the tune of 230 yards and both touchdowns.
This is going to come down to which running game is better. Chase Brown is Illinois’ top running back and will be looked upon having a better day than last week (18 carries, 67 yards). That’s a large ask against a Minnesota run defense that allows 92.9 yards per game. Despite losing their top running backs, Minnesota has averaged 222.3 rushing yards per game this season.
Minnesota’s defense is more prepared to handle the cold as we hit November, and when the games get tighter, that’s where it will be decided.
Minnesota can’t afford to look too far ahead with Iowa up next, but given Illinois’ inability to be consistent, I don’t see anything wrong with taking Minnesota against the points. The running game has a big day and Illinois is held to 250 total yards. Minnesota by 21
Illinois is 4-3 ATS as an underdog this season.
Illinois is 4-2 ATS against conference opponents.
Minnesota is 11-3 ATS the past three seasons following two straight conference games.
Passing: Artur Sitkowski -- 704 yards, 6 TD, 2 INT
Rushing: Chase Brown -- 704 yards, 4 TD
Receiving: Isaiah Williams -- 372 yards, 2 TD
Defense: Tarique Barnes -- 60 tackles
Passing: Tanner Morgan -- 1,177 yards, 6 TD, 5 INT
Rushing: Trey Potts -- 552 yards, 6 TD
Receiving: Mike Brown-Stephens -- 295 yards, 1 TD
Defense: Boye Mafe -- 6 sacks
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