Illinois Feeling Overmatched, Again

Illinois will switch their starting quarterback in an attempt to stick with the Gophers, who might just be able to overpower the Illini.

The Illini played a solid 30 minutes against Michigan, but simply did not have enough manpower or strength to stay with the Wolverines in the second half.

Illinois was at a disadvantage in terms of power. On the local ABC telecast, the network gave Michigan the advantage in 20 of the 22 matchups on offense and defense.

Coach Ron Turner talks bravely about executing better and playing for a full 60 minutes, but the bottom line is that Illinois simply doesn't get the quality athletes that teams like Michigan, Purdue, Wisconsin and Ohio State get on a regular basis.

That point may get hammered home again this week when the Illini go back out on the road to face a hungry Minnesota team. Earlier in the season, the Gophers were looking as if they had a legitimate chance at winning the Big Ten title, but a heartbreaking loss to Michigan derailed Glen Mason's team and the Gophers came unglued at Michigan State.

Minnesota followed that same pattern last year, but got back on track the week after the Michigan State loss with a one-sided victory over their next opponent. That team was — you guessed it — Illinois.

If Minnesota really wants to play all-out for 60 minutes, they could put a huge number on the scoreboard. The strength of the Gophers is their running game, while the worst part of the Illini's game is their run defense. They got torched for 235 yards by Michigan freshman Mike Hart, so it seems likely that Marion Barber and Laurence Maroney will also run over the Illini defenders.

While the Illini have been more competitive than they were a year ago — they seemed to be out of most Big Ten games before halftime — they still can't get over the hump and snatch a few unexpected victories.

Even though the Gophers are in a deep funk, this would appear to be another tough assignment.


SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: QB Jon Beutjer is a sixth-year senior who has a very nice arm and gets rid of the ball fairly quickly. However, for a player with his experience, he does not give head coach Ron Turner the leadership he is looking for. As a result, Beutjer will be replaced by Chris Pazan, Tim Brasic or Brad Bauer against the Gophers. Turner said he will determine the starting quarterback by the way each of the three practices throughout the week.

If RB Pierre Thomas can continue to make inroads on the ground, the Illini should be able to score against Minnesota, which is having defensive problems. Minnesota gave up 636 yards last week — with 324 on the ground.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Defensive back Kelvin Hayden has made a nice transition from wide receiver to his current position. He has excellent awareness and is usually around the ball. He had a key interception in the 30-19 loss to Michigan. However, the Illini have struggled badly for two-plus years when it comes to tackling. That could be a recipe for disaster against a high-powered offensive team like the Gophers.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We better play some defense this week. They can run the ball very well and if we don't do anything to stop them, whew, it could be difficult." — Ron Turner on the strong Minnesota running game they will see this week.


THIS WEEK'S GAME: Illinois at Minnesota, Oct. 23 — The Gophers are probably feeling a lot better knowing that a struggling Illinois team is this week's opponent. Minnesota has lost two in a row and needs to regain its balance. The Illini can move the ball on offense, but they simply don't have the talent and seemingly lack the determination to stop anyone on defense.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: S Justin Harrison — He made a huge interception in the second quarter against Michigan. With the Wolverines threatening to take a 17-7 lead, Harrison picked off a Chad Henne pass in the end zone and returned it 72 yards to set up a touchdown. He finished with 12 stops.

RB Jason Davis — He is one of the most overlooked players in the Big Ten. He can run, catch passes and block. When Jon Beutjer had few options against Michigan, Davis found a way to catch seven passes for 69 yards.

ROSTER REPORT: Running back E.B. Halsey (knee), tight end Melvin Bryant (disciplinary), offensive lineman Kyle Schnettgoecke (ankle), defensive lineman Charles Myles (knee) and defensive backs Travis Williams (hip) and Kyle Kleckner (stinger) are questionable for Saturday's game against Minnesota. Wide receiver Ade Adeyemo (broken leg) is sidelined indefinitely. Wide receiver Lonnie Hurst (knee) and offensive lineman Bryan Koch (knee) are expected to miss the remainder of the season.

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