Know Thy Opponent: Illinois

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The Gophers head to Illinois this week, so we chatted with Marcus Jackson of the The News-Gazette and IlliniHQ.com to learn more about the Illini. You can follow Marcus on Twitter at @MarcusJ_NG.

GopherSports: Marcus, thanks for taking the time to speak with us. Can you give us a brief scouting report on Illinois?

Marcus Jackson: Illinois is a team with no real identity offensively. It can't run the ball consistently and the passing attack has been virtually non-existent all season. The main problem has been the offensive line. There were some injuries to the veteran guys early and the rest of the guys haven't gelled this season.

Defensively, the front seven, led by Michael Buchanan, Akeem Spence, Jonathan Brown and Mason Monheim are very talented, but too often they've been put in tough situations by the offense and special teams and it's worn on them. The result: A 2-7 record.

GS: Minnesota has one Big Ten win, while Illinois does not have any yet. How much emphasis is being put on this game for the Illini or are they approaching it as just another week?

MJ: From everything they're saying, it's business as usual for the Illini. Don't get me wrong, they're hungry for a win and Minnesota just happens to be the next team up, so they're geared up for this one. The understand they're not in a position to feel a great deal of confidence about beating anyone, no matter the record, so they're not approaching this game with over-confidence.

GS: Nathan Scheelhaase is a quarterback the Gophers are familiar with. How has he developed in his time at Illinois, and when healthy this year, what does he provide for the Illini offense?

MJ: This has been the worst season of Nathan Scheelhaase's career. It can mainly be chalked up to the fact that he hasn't been healthy since the first half of the season opener. He got off to a great start in his career, but he's not the same player this year. He won't complain about it, but he hasn't been healthy and the offensive line has been brutal. When he is healthy, he's a true dual-threat quarterback who is a nightmare to prepare for because he can make plays consistently on the ground and through the air. Take away his legs, which happened with the ankle injury, and he's not nearly as dangerous.

GS: Who is an under-the-radar player Gopher fans should pay attention to?

MJ: Corey Lewis' story has been the highlight of the season for the Illini. Lewis is an offensive lineman, who was projected to be an anchor on the line, before suffering a knee injury during the 2010 spring game. All told, Lewis has had a total of five surgeries between his two knees and missed two full seasons before returning to the field for the first time last week in the loss at Ohio State. For the fifth-year senior, it was the first game action he had seen since the 2009 season finale. He likely won't start, but he'll play plenty, probably at right tackle.

GS: Care to give us a prediction on the game?

MJ: Minnesota 30, Illinois 20. Both teams are starved for a win. Minnesota has had some sustained success early in the season and can draw on that under a great coach like Jerry Kill to get themselves over the hump.

GS: Marcus, thanks again. Looking forward to seeing you on Saturday.

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