Illinois, Minnesota desperate, but for vastly different reasons
by herb gould email@example.com
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Just what Illinois needs — another determined bottom-feeder coming to Champaign intent on spoiling Dad’s Day.
In other words, it’s not easy to say who’ll be more desperate when Illinois hosts Minnesota on Saturday.
The Illini (2-7, 0-5 Big Ten), who are in the throes of a disastrous inaugural season for coach Tim Beckman, could use the balm of victory after being frustrated in their last six games.
The Gophers (5-4, 1-4), who have lost four of five Big Ten games since starting 4-0 in nonconference play, need a win to become bowl-eligible. If they don’t beat Illinois, they’ll have to surprise Nebraska or Michigan State to reach the postseason.
In a measure of how far Beckman’s Illini have to go, they found bright spots in their 52-22 loss last Saturday at undefeated Ohio State.
‘‘I was proud of the way the kids continued to play throughout the football game,’’ Beckman said, ‘‘but it wasn’t good enough to defeat a team like that. Now it’s up to us to build from there.’’
In a measure of the size of the gap the Gophers are trying to close, they were somewhat heartened by trailing Michigan only 21-10 in the fourth quarter before falling 35-13, even though Michigan was without quarterback Denard Robinson.
That said, the Gophers are getting impatient in their second year under Jerry Kill.
‘‘We’re making strides, but that’s not much of a consolation,’’ Minnesota linebacker Mike Rallis said. ‘‘Not making a bowl game is not really an option for me. We’re getting down to the end of it. We need to find a way to go out the right way.’’
Its bowl hopes dashed, Illinois merely is trying to snap an 11-game Big Ten losing streak and find something positive.
‘‘We know they’re looking to get into the bowl picture,’’ Illini quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase said. ‘‘With that being out for us, we just need to focus on doing our best and playing like we’re capable of playing, not worrying about who we’re playing or what’s going on with them.’’
MarQueis Gray, who ran for two touchdowns and passed for another in Minnesota’s 27-7 win over Illinois last season, moved to receiver earlier this season. It’s freshman quarterback Philip Nelson’s job to get the ball to Gray.
‘‘They’re a lot improved,’’ Illinois defender Ashante Williams said. ‘‘At receiver, Gray can make a lot more plays in the open field. They’re a pretty explosive offense. It’s going to be a tough challenge for the defense.’’
It’ll be especially difficult because key linebacker Jonathan Brown will miss the game with a shoulder injury. Brown was hurt against the Buckeyes and is week-to-week. He’s tied with linebacker Mason Monheim for the team lead in tackles with 59 and leads the Illini with 91/2 tackles for loss.