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The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, Nov. 10, 3:30 p.m. (et).
FACTS & STATS: Site: Memorial Stadium (60,670) -- Champaign, Illinois. Television: Big Ten Network. Home Record: Minnesota 4-2, Illinois 2-3. Away Record: Minnesota 1-2, Illinois 0-4. Neutral Record: Minnesota 0-0, Illinois 0-0. Conference Record: Minnesota 1-4, Illinois 0-5. Series Record: Minnesota leads, 34-28-3.
GAME NOTES: The Illinois Fighting Illini welcome the Minnesota Golden Gophers to Memorial Stadium for a Big Ten Conference clash on Saturday afternoon.
Minnesota is coming off a 35-13 home loss to Michigan last weekend. The loss was the Golden Gophers' fourth in their last five tries, which has come on the heels of a 4-0 start. Following this tilt, they'll wrap up the regular season at Nebraska and then home against Michigan State over the next two weeks.
Meanwhile, Illinois enters this contest looking to end a six-game slide. The latest of those losses came at Ohio State last week in a 52-22 final. The Fighting Illini are winless in five conference games.
Minnesota has won three of the last four meetings with Illinois and leads the all-time series, 34-28-3.
The Golden Gophers rank near the bottom of the Big Ten in scoring offense (9th) and total offense (10th). In each of their four losses, they have been held to exactly 13 points. Against Michigan last weekend, eight of Minnesota's 10 possessions ventured past midfield, yet the offense managed only one touchdown. The Gophers were held to 4-of-14 on third downs and 2-of-4 on fourth downs, finishing with 275 yards of total offense. Freshman quarterback Philip Nelson threw for 142 yards and a touchdown on a less-than-efficient 13- of-29 passing effort. Nelson took over as the starter at Wisconsin on Oct. 20 after injuries to MarQueis Gray (ankle) and Max Shortell (neck), and has held on to the job ever since.
Minnesota's defense was thrown a loop when Michigan made a last-minute switch right before kickoff and replaced starting quarterback Denard Robinson, who has been dealing with a right elbow injury, with Devin Gardner. Whereas the Gophers had prepared all week for the dual-threat Robinson, Gardner exposed some holes in pass coverage and completed 12-of-18 passes for 234 yards and two TDs. Michigan was able to convert 7-of-12 third downs for the game and scored touchdowns on all three of its trips to the red zone. Troy Stoudermire and Brock Vereen shared team-high honors with nine tackles apiece in the loss.
Much like the Golden Gophers, Illinois has struggled to generate points on a consistent basis. The Fighting Illini rank 114th in the nation in scoring offense, averaging just 18.4 points per game. They haven't been able to move the ball a whole lot either, as their average of 301.0 yards per game ranks 115th nationally. Facing steady pressure from the Ohio State defense last week, quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase completed 19-of-34 passes for only 91 yards with one interception. His 36 rushing yards led the team, as the Illini converted only 2-of-14 third downs and finished with just 170 yards from scrimmage.
Conversely, OSU racked up 32 first downs and 567 total yards against Illinois' defense. The Buckeyes scored on 6-of-7 trips to the red zone, including five TDs. Glenn Foster notched two of Illinois' four sacks on the day and Ashante Williams returned a fumble 77 yards for a touchdown, but the defense had no answer for a Buckeyes ground game that churned out 330 yards and five scores. All in all it was a lackluster effort for a defense that ranks 16th nationally in defensive three-and-outs and 19th in third-down conversion rate. Terry Hawthorne led the way with 10 tackles, including two for loss and a sack, in the loss.
Illinois has suffered 11 consecutive losses in Big Ten play, and the team has not displayed many signs it is ready to stop the skid. However, the Golden Gophers have endured their own struggles of late, as both teams enter the weekend desperate for a win.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Illinois 23, Minnesota 17
11/07 11:10:17 ET
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