Minnesota vs. Illinois football game preview.

Heading into his first season months ago, Minnesota coach Tim Brewster was part coach, part fire and brimstone and part Madison Avenue pitch man.   "I'm fired up about this opportunity,'' he said. "It's a culmination of a dream for me.''   Making the move from career assistant in Division I and the NFL, Brewster, 47, took over the Gophers after Minnesota fired Glen Mason after the Insight Bowl fiasco. The Gophers blew a 31-point lead in the second half during a three-point loss. Less than three weeks later, Brewster landed his first head coaching job.   It's just not his first choice. When Minnesota (1-8 overall, 0-5 in the Big Ten Conference) hosts Illinois (6-3, 3-2) in the Metrodome on Saturday (7 p.m., Big Ten Network), Brewster faces his alma mater and Illini coach Ron Zook -- the man who got the job Brewster coveted in 2004.   "I'm sure they had this game circled since the staff got there with coach Brewster being an alumnus of here,'' Zook said.   A tight end and captain on Illinois' conference championship team in 1983 that was the last Illini team to play in the Rose Bowl, Brewster politicked behind the scenes. Illinois athletic director Ron Guenther prefers a track record, and no coaching experience doomed Brewster's bid.   So this isn't just another game for Brewster, despite his denials.   "The only thing I'm concerned about is helping our kids win a game because we all know we need it,'' Brewster said. "That is the only thing that matters to me. All the other story lines surrounding it don't matter.''   Scrapping on offense based on power running that carried the Gophers to appearances in mid-level bowls seven of the past eight seasons, Brewster went with a spread offense. Gophers redshirt freshman quarterback Adam Weber ranks third in the Big Ten in passing with 2,145 yards. He has 19 touchdown passes with 15 interceptions, and there have been growing pains.   The Gophers have a seven-game losing streak, including two losses in overtime. Minnesota lost to Florida Atlantic and North Dakota State. Along the way, Minnesota ranks last nationally in total defense (536.7 yards per game) and passing defense (332.2) while also ranking last in the Big Ten in rushing defense (204.5).   Minnesota is banking on Brewster's promotional ability and recruiting to rebuild the Gophers before Minnesota moves into a 50,000-seat stadium under construction on campus that opens for the 2009 season.   By working under Texas coach Mack Brown before NFL stops in San Diego under Marty Schottenheimer and the previous two seasons as tight ends coach in Denver with Mike Shanahan, "my preparedness for the job is complete,'' Brewster said.   As the Chargers assistant head coach under Schottenheimer, Brewster learned "tremendous attention to detail,'' he said. "And toughness. You have to be a tougher football team than your opponent. Mike Shanahan is the best football coach in the world today. There's nobody who understands the game like Mike Shanahan.''   But Brewster's reputation is built around his ability to recruit.   "He does a good job recruiting,'' Zook said. "He's from a background with Mack Brown. Mack is a great recruiter. Their program is going to take off.''   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.     A look at the Gophers   Record: 1-8 overall, 0-5 in the Big Ten.   So far: Lost to Bowling Green 32-31 (OT); def. Miami (Ohio) 41-35 (3 OT); lost to Florida Atlantic 42-39; lost to Purdue 45-31; lost to Ohio State 30-7; lost to Indiana 40-20; lost to Northwestern 49-48 (2 OT); lost to North Dakota State 27-21; lost to Michigan 34-10.   Coach: Tim Brewster, 1-8 in first season at Minnesota and overall.   Series: Minnesota leads 31-26-3.   Players to watch: QB Adam Weber, RB Amir Pinnix (103 carries, 562 yards, 5 TDs), WR Eric Decker (56 catches, 691 yards, 6 TDs), WR Ernie Wheelwright (44 catches, 533 yards, 8 TDs).   Did you know? Brewster's son Clint is a third-string quarterback as a Minnesota true freshman after first committing to Illinois.   Quote: "It's hard on him, being a quarterback in the Big Ten. That's a tough deal, and now your dad is the head coach.'' -- Minnesota coach Tim Brewster on his son Clint.