UI-Minnesota: 5 keys
Just in case someone cares, we asked Marcus Jackson to break down Saturday's 2:30 p.m. football game against Minnesota:
Will the Illini go deep?
That’s one of the main fan complaints about the Illinois offense. The Illini have five offensive plays this season that have gone for 30 yards or more. The problem has been protection and Tim Beckman said as much earlier this week when asked why the team doesn’t look down field more. The offensive line, which has allowed a Big Ten-high 32 sacks this season, has to give Nathan Scheelhaase more time.
Has the special teams turned the corner?
It looks like the unit is headed in the right direction with Terry Hawthorne healthy and returning kicks. Hawthorne had long returns of 45 and 30 yards last week. Kicker Nick Immekus drilled a pair of field goals in his return last week and Illinois has the advantage against the Gophers in that area. Minnesota kicker Jordan Wettstein has missed eight of his 19 field goal attempts.
What’s up with the Illinois defensive line?
The unit is considered the strength of the defense, but looking at the stats, it doesn’t appear Akeem Spence and Co. have done a whole lot. While it’s true they’re not getting to the quarterback for sacks, the defensive front is still causing trouble. End Michael Buchanan has batted down five passes and intercepted another. The six defended passes ranks second in the country among defensive linemen. Minnesota freshman quarterback Philip Nelson will see plenty of No. 99.
Minnesota at home should be a lock, right?
While it’s true the Gophers haven’t won on the road within the Big Ten under second-year coach Jerry Kill, the Gophers have had success at Memorial Stadium. Minnesota, which has lost six straight conference road games, has had success in Champaign. The Gophers have won four straight road games against the Illini and their last Big Ten road win was a 38-34 win at Illinois two years ago.
Where will MarQueis Gray be?
The former Gophers starting quarterback will take the bulk of his snaps today as a wide receiver. The 250-pounder is a dangerous runner, too, and he could be in the mix for some trick passing plays. He’s a defensive coordinator’s nightmare. During his career, Gray has passed for 2,045 yards, run for 1,661 yards and has caught 59 passes for 761 yards.