Matchups to watch in Illinois' game versus Minnesota

By Masaki Sugimoto

Illinois’ front seven vs. Minnesota’s backfield

The Illinois defense played admirably against Ohio State, but couldn’t pull off the upset. Part of the reason was because it could not stop Ezekiel Elliott and J.T. Barrett on the ground. The two combined for 271 rush yards, three touchdowns on 6.3 yards per carry. For Minnesota is ranked 12th in the conference in rushing offense. Despite that, it had a fairly good rushing day against Iowa, whose rushing defense ranks ninth in the nation. Running Back Shannon Brooks and quarterback Mitch Leidner combined for 132 yards and two touchdowns against the hawkeyes, who had only given up three rush touchdowns prior to that game. 

V’Angelo Bentley vs. KJ Maye
Minnesota looks to KJ Maye when they need to move the chains or score. As Minnesota’s leading receiver, Maye has had 56 catches for 630 yards. Thirty-six of those receptions have resulted in a first down or touchdown. Maye stands at 5 feet 10 inches, which bodes well for V’angelo Bentley, who is the same height. Bentley has had to deal with some receivers who are taller than him, so the fact that Maye is who he has to cover is important. Bentley and the other defensive backs only gave up 157 receiving yards to Ohio State and did well in one-on-one matchups. For this Minnesota team, the Mitch Leidner to Maye connection becomes crucial if the Gophers’ running game cannot get going. 

Bill Cubit vs. Tracy Claeys

Cubit wants to be like Tracy Claeys — he wants the word interim to be removed from his title. Reaching a bowl game might erase that label. Minnesota stands at 4-6, Illinois is 5-5. If the Golden Gophers lose, they are out of bowl contention. If the Illini lose, they have one last shot against a strong Northwestern team in Soldier Field. Both teams desperately want to go to a bowl game, both teams have gone through a great deal of adversity and it may all come down to this Saturday. A big win could mean that Cubit receives an extension. A loss, however, could lead the Illinois athletic department to woo other potential candidates.