The Minnesota Golden Gophers will wrap up their 2011 season Saturday in a Big Ten Conference matchup with Illinois. The game is scheduled for an 2:42 p.m. CT kickoff at TCF Bank Stadium. Saturday’s game will be the final Gopher appearance for 24 Minnesota seniors. The Gophers have won eight of the last 11 vs. Illinois. But Minnesota hasn’t defeated Illinois at home since 2004.
Minnesota is coming off a 28-13 defeat at Northwestern. The Gophers out-gained Northwestern, but critical turnovers and mistakes in the kicking game cost them. The Gophers are now 2-9 overall and 1-6 in Big Ten play. Illinois enters Saturday’s game with a 6-5 overall mark and a 2-5 record in the Big Ten. The Illini are already bowl eligible, winning six straight to open the season before losing their last five.
The Big Ten Network will televise Saturday’s game. Tom Hart will call the play-by-play action, while former Gopher Derek Rackley will be the analyst. Lisa Byington will report from the sidelines.
SCOUTING ILLINOIS Minnesota faces Illinois for the 64th time Saturday. The Gophers lead the all-time series 32-28-3. The Illini opened the season with six straight victories, but have since dropped five in a row.
Illinois is coached by Ron Zook, who is in his seventh season as the head man in Champaign. Zook is in his 10th season as a collegiate head coach. He was the head coach at Florida for three years prior to taking over the Illini. Zook has an overall record of 57-64. Zook also has coaching experience at Ohio State, Virginia Tech, Tennessee, Kansas, Cincinnati and Murray State.
The Illini boast the No. 9 total defense in the nation. Illinois allows just 288 yards per game. The Illini are also ranked No. 16 in scoring defense, giving up an average of just 19.45 points per game. Illinois is averaging 24.3 points per game, which is tied for No. 84 in the nation. The Illini have also been very successful getting to the quarterback, recording 3.1 sacks per game (No. 6 in the nation).
BENNETT JOINS ELITE COMPANY Running back Duane Bennett became just the 13th Golden Gopher to rush for 2,000 yards in his career Saturday. He now has a total of 2,082 rushing yards for his career to rank No. 13 on the school’s all-time rushing charts. With 68 yards Saturday, Bennett could move into the No. 12 spot. He would need 106 yards to tie for the No. 11 mark (see chart at left).
KIM-POSSIBLE Senior safety Kim Royston wasn’t even supposed to be on the 2011 version of the Gopher football team. He thought his career might be over when he suffered a gruesome compound fracture of his lower leg. His initial recovery went well enough that many thought he would play in 2010. But a setback in recovery derailed his senior season. However, the NCAA granted him a sixth year of eligibility.
Royston turned in a career-best 17 tackles at Northwestern last week. It was the most by a Gopher since Nate Triplett had 17 in the TCF Bank Stadium opener vs. Air Force on Sept. 12, 2009. Royston also added an interception vs. the Wildcats last week.