2011 Prediction & Game Story
Week 13 - Illinois at Minnesota
Big Ten Fearless Predictions &
- FREE EXPERT COLLEGE FOOTBALL SELECTIONS
- Get Tickets For This Game
Nov. 26 at Minnesota 27 ... Illinois 7
CFN Analysis: COMING
(AP) MINNEAPOLIS -- MarQueis Gray rushed for 167 yards and two touchdowns and threw for another score, guiding Minnesota past backsliding Illinois 27-7 on Saturday in the season finale and sending the Fighting Illini to their sixth straight defeat.
Gray took off 27 times to break the single-season rushing record for a Golden Gophers quarterback, giving him 966 yards. Billy Cockerham had 831 yards rushing in 1999.
Troy Pollard's 11-yard touchdown run in the third quarter was the only highlight for the Illini (6-6, 2-6 Big Ten), who wasted their best start in 60 years and put coach Ron Zook's job in obvious danger. Nathan Scheelhaase, who was 4 for 6 for 15 yards in a time share with Reilly O'Toole, lost a costly fumble on one of his five sacks.
Illinois held an opponent under 100 yards passing for the fifth time this season -- Gray went 7 for 14 for 85 yards -- but couldn't stop him from scrambling and converting critical first downs. Jordan Wettstein kicked field goals of 43 and 51 yards for the Gophers (3-9, 2-6), who have won nine of their last 12 games against the Illini.
They held Illinois to 18 yards on 23 plays in the first half and a season-low 160 yards on 59 plays for the game, by far the best performance of the year for a defense playing with a lot more speed and confidence than during that 58-0 loss at Michigan on Oct. 1.
This was the first time Minnesota led from start to finish since winning 17-6 at Purdue on Oct. 25, 2008. The Gophers posted their largest margin of victory since beating Florida Atlantic 37-3 on Sept. 20, 2008, and their biggest in a conference game since a 63-26 win over Indiana on Nov. 4, 2006.
They appeared to want this one more than the Illini, who looked defeated and lethargic except for a first-down run by freshman O'Toole, who jumped up and pumped his fist to fire up the sideline in the third quarter. That drive was extended by a successful fake-punt run by Jay Prosch and capped by Pollard's score, but the Gophers were unfazed.
They danced on the sideline between the third and fourth quarters and kept up their sure tackling throughout the final minutes. The outcome -- and perhaps Zook's dismissal -- was sealed when sixth-year senior free safety Kim Royston sacked Scheelhaase for a 7-yard loss on fourth-and-goal to give the Gophers the ball back at the 5-minute mark.
The Gophers punted on their first four possessions, but they got their first break early in the second quarter when Scheelhaase was sacked and stripped of the ball by Ra'Shede Hageman. Michael Amaefula recovered at the 16-yard line, and Gray slipped out of Steve Hull's tackle on the next play on his way to an easy touchdown run.
Gray owned the next drive, too, finding Da'Jon McKnight for a pair of first downs and a wide-open John Rabe from 8 yards out on third down to stretch the lead to 14-0. Wettstein, the walk-on who took over four games ago when Chris Hawthorne got hurt, nailed a couple of kicks before the end of the half, and the Gophers took a 20-point lead to the locker room.
They padded it on their first possession of the third quarter after a 21-yard punt by Ryan Lankford gave them the ball at their 43. Gray finished the possession with a 14-yard touchdown run, putting a slick juke on DeJazz Woods at the line of scrimmage to jog into the end zone untouched.
The Illini, who beat Baylor in the Texas Bowl last year, have never won bowl games in consecutive seasons. There's no guarantee they'll get invited this time, with more eligible Big Ten teams than assigned slots.
Zook, 57, is 34-51 in seven seasons, a winning percentage that ranks 11th among the 13 Illini coaches who've coached more than one season.
Illinois (6-5) at Minnesota (2-9) Nov. 26, 3:30, BTN
Here’s The Deal … Will the Illinois slide continue? After being such a hot story over the first half of the season with a 6-0 start, the wheels have come off with a five-game losing streak with no offense and key loss after key loss against the Big Ten’s better teams. Minnesota isn’t one of the Big Ten’s better teams, but it’s playing with a ton of heart and fire in a lost season. The Illini coaching staff is on a major hot seat, and a loss to Minnesota would all but end the Ron Zook era and could be enough to keep the team home for the bowl season. With so many Big Ten teams bowl eligible, there’s a chance one could be left out in the cold. Bowls aren’t going to be too fired up to take a dead Illini squad.
Minnesota isn’t scoring much, but it shocked Iowa, gave Michigan State a good fight, and battled with Northwestern over the last month. This is a stepping-stone year for Jerry Kill and a program that needs at least two recruiting cycles to start to be more of a factor, and when it comes to recruiting and momentum, coming up with a win in the season finale could do wonders. The team hasn’t stopped playing hard, and against the struggling Ilini, effort could be enough to pay off.
The road team has won the last four games, and the last three games have been wildly entertaining with each getting interesting late and each decided by a touchdown or less. There’s a sense of desperation for both teams, and it should show with this being Minnesota’s bowl game and Illinois fighting to turn its season back around. One way or another, a program will probably change depending on what happens.
Why Illinois Might Win: Illinois might be struggling to score, but Minnesota is having just as many problems. The Gophers haven’t hit the 30-point mark yet this year, and they’ve only scored more than 17 points twice since mid-September. The offense has come up with yards from time to time, but they haven’t led to enough points with the defense and special teams needed to help manufacture points. Considering how much the Illinois offense is sputtering, finally, it goes into a game knowing that it might not have to put up 24 points to get the win. There’s too much talent on Illinois to be this mediocre, and the offense is way, way overdue to bust out.
The Minnesota offense has been struggling, but the defense has been even worse. The secondary has been picked clean by everyone and anyone who can throw. Wisconsin’s Russell Wilson connected on 16-of-17 passes, and Northwestern’s Dan Persa hit 22-of-31 throws last week. On the year, opposing quarterbacks are completing a whopping 69% of their passes for 2,522 yards and 23 scores and four picks. Nathan Scheelhaase has to be licking his chops.
Why Minnesota Might Win: Where has the Illinois offense gone? So potent over the first half of the season, cranking out 473 yards or more in five of the first six games, the attack hasn’t put up more than 301 yards just once, and that was in the loss to Purdue with 366 yards. The running game has stopped working and the passing attack isn’t coming up with the big downfield plays it was over the first half of the year. After throwing 12 touchdown passes in the first seven games, it came up with just one in the last four.
The biggest problem has been turnovers. The Illini wasn’t exactly stingy with the ball early on, but it’s been a real issue over the last few weeks with 11 giveaways in the last three games including four against Wisconsin last week. Minnesota has given away four picks in the last three games, but it has only lost one fumble since October.
What To Watch Out For: Nathan Scheelhaase has been struggling, and Illinois is using Reilly O’Toole from time to time to see if he can spark more of a passing game. However, it only seems to be killing the team’s continuity. The Illini actually moved the ball a bit against Wisconsin, but turnovers turned out to be the problem with O’Toole throwing two picks while completing 7-of-12 passes for 53 yards. Scheelhaase completed 15-of-19 passes for 99 yards with a pick and ran for 28 yards, and last year he was awful against the Gophers completing 10-of-21 passes. He needs to rock to keep a firm hold on the starting job.
Last week against Northwestern, Minnesota quarterback MarQueis Gray only completed 9-of-21 passes for 124 yards and a pick, but he ran for 160 yards and a score. The passing game isn’t working and is wildly inefficient, but Gray is still a weapon and a difference maker. If he wants to be the main man for the offense next year, he could use one final big performance.
What Will Happen: Illinois is limping into the game and is overdue to come up with a big, big game. Either the offense will blow up and destroy the Gophers from the start, or it’ll be another sixty minutes of fizzle and Minnesota will play inspired in its final game of the season. Jerry Kill’s bunch will come up with the win to go into the offseason on a high note.
CFN Prediction: Minnesota 26 … Illinois 24
Click For Latest Line From ATS: Illinois -10.5 O/U: 44
- Get Tickets For This Game
- FREE EXPERT COLLEGE FOOTBALL SELECTIONS