Minnesota, Illinois both try to snap losing streaks
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Minnesota rolled through the first six games of the season, averaging more than 41 points per game. Then the Golden Gophers ran into the schools from Michigan.
Their offense was as potent as ever against Michigan and Michigan State, scoring 73 points. But defensive failures and turnovers led to 82 points and two straight losses at home, and now Minnesota finds itself trailing in the Big Ten race, its Rose Bowl hopes fading.
"We can't lose any more games," said defensive tackle Darrell Reid.
The Gophers will try to snap the losing streak Saturday at Illinois, a battered team that's lost six in a row and is looking for success in any form, especially on homecoming weekend.
"We need to win. It's been a long time since we've been able to sing our fight song in the locker room," said Illinois fullback Carey Davis.
But the Illini will be without quarterback Jon Beutjer for the rest of the season. A herniated disk in his back kept him out last week and now has him headed for an operating table, his football future in some doubt.
Running back E.B. Halsey, the team's leading rusher, is out this week after spraining his right knee in last week's 56-14 loss to Michigan. Injuries also have claimed starting offensive guard Brian Koch and starting defensive end Mike O'Brien, who has been out since the season's first game.
Illinois has been outscored 186-58 in its four Big Ten games and ranks last in the conference in defense, allowing 477 yards per game.
"It's hard," Davis said. "With our record being 1-7, it's pretty hard to get up and keep fighting and keep going to practice and keep working hard. But we're going to keep doing it."
Minnesota brings an offense to Champaign that has averaged more than 480 yards per game overall, best in the Big Ten and seventh in the nation. The Gophers' rushing attack, at 279 yards per game, is ranked third in the country.
"Their running game is unbelievable," said Illinois coach Ron Turner. "Their offensive line is really, really good. They've got three, four, really good backs and they've got two outstanding blocking tight ends."
Marion Barber III leads the Gophers and the Big Ten in rushing with 790 yards. Laurence Maroney, Thomas Tapeh, and quarterback Asad Abdul-Khaliq all average more than 5 yards per carry. Terry Jackson II averages just under 5.
Abdul-Khaliq has completed 62 percent of his passes and has thrown for 13 touchdowns this season. He threw for 377 yards and 4 TDs against Michigan State last week.
But an inconsistent defense has been Minnesota coach Glen Mason's bugaboo this season. The Gophers have allowed 14 touchdowns and an average of 400 yards per game in conference play, after allowing just 7 TDs and 251 yards per game in their four nonconference games.
"We've got to try to put it together, stop the bleeding and get out of this hole we've dug ourselves the past two weeks," Reid said.
Minnesota's next win would be Mason's 100th NCAA Division I victory.
Turner will start redshirt freshman Chris Pazan at quarterback for the second straight week. He started in place of Beutjer at Michigan and completed 11 of 23 passes for 100 yards.
However, Turner also left open the possibility that senior Dustin Ward will see action. Ward completed five straight passes in late-game action at Michigan.
"I told them both to be ready to go," Turner said. "We might stick Dustin in there in the first or second quarter and see how he does."
Freshman Pierre Thomas will start in Halsey's place in the backfield. He scored both Illinois touchdowns last week and has 163 yards in 28 carries this season.
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