Continuing History, Snapping Funk

If the history of the last two years is to be followed, the Gophers will come out of their two-game funk this weekend against Illinois. It doesn't hurt that Illinois is last in the Big Ten in rush defense.

Minnesota appears to be a team that has become trapped by its own history. Here are the facts:

In 2003, the Gophers played their hearts out in gaining a three-TD lead over Michigan at the start of the fourth quarter. Instead of finishing out the game and gaining the win over the hated Wolverines, they lost a 38-35 decision.

In 2004, the Gophers once again led Michigan in the fourth quarter, but could not make a late defensive stand and lost 27-24.

In 2003, the Gophers could not get that Michigan game out of their minds and did not play their best game in losing 44-36 to Michigan State a week later.

In 2004, the Gophers were feeling sorry for themselves and ended up getting blown out by the Spartans 51-17.

If Minnesota is destined to repeat its own history, the news should be decidedly better this week. Minnesota ended its two-game funk last year with a 36-10 win at Illinois.

This time, they get the porous Illini to come to the Metrodome. Minnesota is likely going to return to its overpowering running game. Even though they were held to 102 rushing yards by Michigan State, Minnesota is still averaging 272.6 yards per game on the ground and ranks third in the nation.

Illinois simply cannot stop the run. The Illini rank last in the Big Ten in rushing defense, giving up 204.4 yards per game. You don't have to be Knute Rockne to figure out how the Gophers will attack Illinois.

Laurence Maroney and Marion Barber want to bounce back after a below-par game against the Spartans. So does the Minnesota offensive line. C Greg Eslinger is a candidate for the Dave Rimington Award. That trophy goes to the nation's best center. A 400-yard rushing game would go along way toward helping Eslinger's effort.

Don't bet against it. Minnesota is too talented to go into a deep funk. The losing streak will most likely end at two games because the Gophers are playing against a team that has rarely shown the inclination to fight for 60 minutes.


SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: After a two-week lull, Minnesota needs to get it back in gear if it wants to save its season. The Gophers should be able to run the ball at will against an Illinois team that gives up big chunks of yards on the ground and has a difficult time competing for 60 minutes. Ron Turner's team is poor at tackling, and that's an awful thing when his team is about to face the third-best rushing team in the nation.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The Gophers have suddenly lost the ability to defend. After giving up 518 yards to Michigan, they gave up 636 to Michigan State. Illinois will come in with a new quarterback since head coach Ron Turner has decided to bench starter Jon Beutjer. Tim Brasic, Chris Pazan and Brad Bower are competing for the starting job and Turner is not likely to name a starter until game time.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Basically, you know, it's a pride thing. We've lost two straight, and it's just how bad are we gonna want it? We know we have the talent. We have to go out there and work. If we want it bad enough, we're going to have to go out and get it." — Cornerback Ukee Dozier on what motivates the Gophers after losing back-to-back games to Michigan and Michigan State.


THIS WEEK'S GAME: Illinois at Minnesota, Oct. 23 — If the Gophers get off to a good start, they could literally run the Illini out of the Metrodome. Laurence Maroney is the ninth-ranked running back in the country with 124.1 yards per game. Marion Barber adds 96.9 yards per game. The Illinois defense gave up 235 rushing yards to Michigan freshman Mike Hart last week. All Minnesota has to do is focus and sustain its effort and it will end its two-game losing streak.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: RB Marion Barber — The Gophers love to run the ball and Barber has run for 678 yards and eight touchdowns. But he can also throw the ball on the option pass. He is 2-of-2 this year for 23 yards and has thrown one TD pass.

CB Ukee Dozier — He is the most active of the Minnesota defensive backs. He has registered three interceptions to lead the team and has shown the ability to close on the ball very well.

ROSTER REPORT: Offensive lineman Brandon Harston (foot) is questionable for Saturday's game against Illinois. Defensive back John Pawielski (ankle), wide receiver Jared Ellerson (ankle) and running backs Laurence Maroney (hand) and Marion Barber III (undisclosed) are probable.

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