The malaise is over. At least according to head coach Glen Mason.
The Gophers have lost their last two football games, but Mason is convinced the team will come through with its best effort when it plays at Illinois on Saturday.
Two weeks ago, an undefeated Minnesota team fell apart in the fourth quarter of the Michigan game and suffered its first loss. Minnesota fell behind by 17 points in the first quarter against Michigan State last week, but came back several times and had a chance to win late in the fourth quarter.
That resurgence has restored Mason's spirit.
"I'm not concerned about the state of my team," he told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. "To be quite honest, I'm in a lot better frame of mind now than I was last week. I feel better about my team. I'm sure a lot of people will say, 'What is he talking about?' I call it like it is."
Part of that might have to do with the opponent this week. Illinois' only win this season came against I-AA Illinois State, and the Illini have a weakness on both sides of the line of scrimmage. The Gophers should definitely be able to get their ground game humming at full power.
In the loss to Michigan, Marion Barber rushed for 197 yards and the Gophers had 424 rushing yards. Those numbers are certainly a possibility against an Illinois defense that may be missing its best player — DE Derrick Strong has an ankle injury — and ranks ninth in rushing defense and total defense in the conference.
If Minnesota can refocus and Mason is not just whistling past the graveyard, the Gophers have a great chance to secure a road win.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The Gophers can do it on the ground as well as any team in the Big Ten. RB Marion Barber is a sensational back and freshman Laurence Maroney is very explosive. Moreover, QB Asad Abdul-Khaliq has become a solid field general and has the ability to go downfield and make big plays.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The Minnesota defense should have an easy time of it because Illinois does a terrible job on the line of scrimmage and No. 1 QB Jon Beutjer is out for the season because of a back problem. If Ron Turner goes with freshman Chris Pazan for the second week in a row, the Gopher defense should be able to tee off and take advantage of his inexperience.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We're not going to throw in the towel. I think we'll regroup. We still can achieve some big things. I don't know if it's going to be a Big Ten championship. But we're already bowl eligible. We're going to keep trying to strive for a better bowl game."-- S Eli Ward on Minnesota's goals for the remaining four games of the season.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Minnesota at Illinois, Oct. 25 — Unless head coach Glen Mason has completely misread his team, the Gophers should be in a position to bounce back from two straight defeats and come through with a big game against Illinois. The Illini have struggled on both sides of the ball and starting QB Jon Beutjer will be forced to the sidelines with a back injury.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: QB Asad Abdul-Khaliq — He completed 27-of-40 passes for 376 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions in the 44-38 loss to Michigan State. He has become one of the best passers in the conference.
WR Aaron Hosack — He has the size to dominate against an ordinary group of Illinois defensive backs. He caught eight passes for 112 yards and two touchdowns in the loss to Michigan State.
INJURY IMPACT: Linebacker Terrence Campbell (stinger) is probable for Saturday's game against Illinois.
Ready for a rebound?
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