Position by position breakdown: Illinois vs. Minnesota

QUARTERBACKS

The Illinois quarterback carousel stopped last week with Juice Williams being Zook’s horse of choice. Don’t expect the same this week against a Minnesota defense that will likely let up its fair share of points, allowing Eddie McGee to get some reps. For the Gophers, Adam Weber has played up and down on the season, throwing for 19 touchdowns but also 15 interceptions. Weber’s ability to run and pass might put him above McGee and Williams if he can limit his interceptions.

ADVANTAGE: MINNESOTA

RUNNING BACKS

After another dominant performance last week, Rashard Mendenhall isn’t far from the Illini single-season rushing record. Minnesota’s Amir Pinnix leads the Gophers in rushing with 562 yards on the year, almost half of Mendenhall’s total on 72 fewer carries. Pinnix has a respectable 5.5 yards per rush, but Mendenhall should easily outplay his counterpart.

ADVANTAGE: ILLINOIS

WIDE RECEIVERS

Minnesota features two physical, big receivers in Ernie Wheelwright at 6-feet-5 and Eric Decker at 6-feet-2. The two will have a distinct height advantage over the short but talented Illinois defensive backs. Illinois once again this week will look for another wide receiver to complement freshman Arrelious Benn.

ADVANTAGE: MINNESOTA

OFFENSIVE LINE

Illinois’ line has helped lead the Illini rushing attack from the “briar patch” as Coach Zook calls it. The group has kept sacks down on the year and has matured as a unit. Minnesota’s line features one freshman, one sophomore, one junior and two seniors. It might be in for a long night against Illinois’ defensive line.

ADVANTAGE: ILLINOIS

DEFENSIVE LINE

The Gopher defensive front hasn’t played particularly well this year, chalking up only seven sacks. Illinois’ defensive line had another big game last week against a questionable Ball State front and has consistently provided pressure all year.

ADVANTAGE: ILLINOIS

LINEBACKERS

The Gopher linebacking corps will rival the Illini’s experience at the position, featuring two seniors and one junior. Look for middle linebacker Deon Hightower to give the Illini offensive attack trouble. Luckily, Illinois has a pretty good middle linebacker, too (you may have heard of him), and two well above-average linebackers in Antonio Steele and Brit Miller. J Leman is leading the Big Ten in tackles per game and ranks 11th nationally. Steele is second on the team with 66 tackles.

ADVANTAGE: ILLINOIS

SECONDARY

The Minnesota secondary is another young spot for the Gophers. Two of the four likely starters for the Gophers – free safety Curtis Thomas and corner Ryan Collado – are true freshmen. The Gophers’ strong safety, Dominique Barber, brother of the Cowboys’ Marion Barber III, has been picking up the slack for the Gophers this year and leads the team in tackles with 79. Illinois’ Vontae Davis didn’t have his best game last week, but he and the rest of the secondary should bounce back against the Gophers.

ADVANTAGE: ILLINOIS

SPECIAL TEAMS

Once again, the Illini opponent will feature a great punter in Justin Kucek, who is on the watch list for the Ray Guy Award. He is averaging 43.1 yards per attempt, ranking second in the conference and 25th nationally. Illinois’ Anthony Santella has come on stronger in the punting game lately, averaging 42.3 yards per attempt last week. While it is unclear if Kyle Hudson will be available this week, DaJuan Warren filled in for Hudson in practice and against Ball State and will be ready if Hudson is unavailable again this week.

ADVANTAGE: MINNESOTA

COACHES

Former Illinois tight end Tim Brewster might be looking to make an early statement in his coaching career by scheduling Illinois for Minnesota’s homecoming game. While Brewster’s team hasn’t flourished early, Zook has been very complimentary of his counterpart’s efforts so far. Zook’s coaching blueprint has finally taken form this year and should be on display this week against the burgeoning Gophers.

ADVANTAGE: ILLINOIS