Minnesota has a golden opportunity to notch its first win of the season on Saturday when it travels to Illinois to face a team decimated by COVID-19 protocols.
Led by quarterback Tanner Morgan, the Golden Gophers (0-2) have taken a big step back from their 11-2 dream season in 2019.
They are last in the FBS with an average of 9.48 yards per play allowed. They were 10th nationally last season in total defense and have forced only two punts in two games, a 49-24 loss to Michigan and a 45-44 loss to Maryland.
Illinois coach Lovie Smith recognizes how important Saturday’s game is to Illinois (0-2). The Illini were crushed by Wisconsin 45-7 in the season opener, and lost 31-24 to Purdue last week.
Illinois starting QB Brandon Peters remains out after testing positive for COVID-19 prior to last week’s loss. His backup, Isaiah Washington, is also presumed out due to contact testing protocols.
At least 12 Illinois players are expected to miss the Minnesota game, including placekicker James McCourt.
Look for fourth-stringer Coran Taylor, who showed some talent against Purdue, to see considerable playing time again after Matt Robinson (third on the team’s QB depth chart) left that game early with an apparent ankle injury. Robinson’s status was unclear for Saturday.
Minnesota defensive coordinator Joe Rossi tested positive for this week COVID-19 and will not coach during Saturday’s game. No other members of Minnesota’s coaching staff have tested positive for COVID-19 during the team’s daily antigen testing this week, team officials said. In Rossi’s absence, defensive special teams coach Joe Harasymiak will call the defense.
Game time is 2:30 pm CT and can be seen on the Big Ten Network.