When the Illini (6-3 overall, 3-2 in the Big Ten Conference) play at Minnesota (1-8, 0-5) Saturday (7 p.m., Big Ten Network), they won't take a win for granted. Illinois understands the Gophers' motivation.
Illinois has plenty of experience in playing the spoiler role in late October and November.
So when the Illini (6-3 overall, 3-2 in the Big Ten Conference) play at Minnesota (1-8, 0-5) Saturday (7 p.m., Big Ten Network), they won't take a win for granted. Illinois understands the Gophers' motivation.
"They're definitely looking to spoil somebody's season,'' said Illini left guard Martin O'Donnell. "We've been in that position before. For the many years I've been here; it's the kind of thing where you look at every week as trying to ruin somebody's year.
"They have their backs to the wall. We know they're going to fight.''
Minnesota has a seven-game losing streak, and the Gophers are 11 1/2-point underdogs. Meanwhile, a victory would assure Illinois a bowl berth.
"We've got a little momentum going here,'' Illinois coach Ron Zook said. "It's an opportunity for them to derail us.''
It's the first meeting for Minnesota coach Tim Brewster against his alma mater. Brewster was a tight end on the Illinois team that won the Big Ten title in 1983 and played in the Rose Bowl. Zook has been in Brewster's position.
"I was a defensive coordinator at Cincinnati against Miami of Ohio (in 1981),'' said Zook, a former Miami safety. "That's when I learned I can't get caught up in that kind of stuff. I was all wound up. It's better for me to stay focused.''
Illinois linebacker Brit Miller was irritated after he learned that Illinois was Minnesota's homecoming date.
"We know they scheduled us for homecoming,'' he said. "We know that (Brewster) penciled that in himself. For a long trime, we were homecoming for a lot of people. I don't want to be anybody's homecoming date anymore.''
Illinois lost six of its last seven games to Minnesota. The Illini dropped their last four games in the Metrodome, where they haven't won since 1994. Illinois lost 45-0 there in 2004, the last meeting between the two teams.
THE JUICE: Zook isn't overly concerned about the pounding sophomore Juice Williams takes as an option quarterback. Williams absorbed two especially hard hits against Ball State, including a blind-side sack in the pocket. Williams isn't interested in sliding to avoid contact, Zook said.
"Sunday, his neck was stiff,'' Zook said. "He's a tough guy. One of the things we've done with Juice is not change him. He's got to be who he is. Juice is that way.''
INJURY REPORT: Tight end Michael Hoomanawanui (back), defensive end Derek Walker (foot) and receiver Kyle Hudson (foot) are expected to return to action. Hoomanawanui missed the last two games. Walker and Hudson sat during the Ball State win.
ETC.: Junior defensive end Will Davis was added to the watch list of the Hendricks Award that goes to the nation's top defensive end. A converted tight end, Davis has a team-high 7.5 sacks. Illinois ranks 10th in the nation with 30 sacks. The Illini are on pace the break the school record of 40. . .
John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com. For more coverage, read Illini Talk blog at www.sj-r.com and www.pjstar.com .