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September 28, 2001 - Image 18

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The Michigan Daily, 2001-09-28

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6B - The Michigan Daily - FOOTBALL SATURDAY - Friday, September 28, 2001

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Friday, September 28, 2001- FOOTBALL SATURDAY - The Michigan Daily - 7B

Wolverines, Illini set to kick off Big Ten season Kittner expect

ing statement game

PROCRASTINATION
STATION

By Arun Gopal
Daily Sports Writer
Now that the nonconference portion
of the schedule is out of the way,
Michigan can turn its attention to
beginning the defense of the Big Ten
championship the Wolverines shared
with Northwestern and Purdue last
year.
Michigan will open conference play
tomorrow against Illinois, which is
hungry for revenge after a 35-31 home
loss to the Wolverines last year. These
are two teams with legitimate Big Ten
title aspirations, so the winner of this
game will have a great start to league
play.
MICHIGAN RUSH OFFENSE VS. ILLINOIS
RUSH DEFENSE'
Illinois' defense was so comprehen-
sively bad last year that the Fighting
Illini fired their entire defensive staff.
Illinois head coach Ron Turner was
hoping for a lot of improvement from
his defense, and so far, the results have
been good.
The Fighting Illini haven't given up
more than 17 points in any game en
route to a 3-0 start. Last week, Illinois
throttled Dave Ragone and a high-pow-
ered Louisville offense en route to a 34-
10 win over the Cardinals.
But, Louisville isn't Michigan, and
the Fighting Illini have yet to face a
running attack the caliber of the
Wolverines'. Chris Perry's MCL injury
has left his status for the game in doubt,
but fortunately for Michigan, B.J.
Askew appears to be up to the task. The
junior has been a pleasant surprise in
the first three games and scored three
touchdowns last week against Western
Michigan.
Askew's emergence, combined with
the continuing maturation of
Michigan's talented offensive line,
should be far too much for Illinois to
handle.
Edge: Michigan
MICHIGAN PASS OFFENSE VS. IWNOIS
PASS DEFENSE
Illinois' pass defense certainly made
a statement last week by holding pass-
happy Louisville to only 10 points. The
Cardinals' Dave Ragone came into the
game with some lofty numbers but was
intercepted three times while only
throwing one touchdown pass.
Based on that, it might seem like
Illinois has a clear advantage. But,
Michigan's offense has a way of throw-
ing when it wants to, where it wants to.
The Wolverines make such liberal
use of screens and passes to the tight
end that it's difficult to completely shut
down Michigan's passing game. Plus, if
Illinois plays zone to take away the
deep ball, offensive coordinator Stan
Parrish will call 10-yard outsuntil the
cows come home.
Illinois might be able to take away
sose of Michigan's deep passing game,
but it won't completely neutralize.

Marquise Walker, Calvin Bell and Ron
Bellamy. This matchup looks like it
will go both ways.
Edge: Even
ILLINOIS RUSH OFFENSE VS. MICHIGAN
RUSH DEFENSE
Illinois' duo of Rocky Harvey and
Antoineo Harris is strong. Harris
rushed for over 100 yards against
Louisville, and Harvey tortured
Michigan when these teams played at
Michigan Stadium two years ago.
Michigan's run defense looked sus-
pect against Miami (Ohio), but the
Wolverines were spectacular against
Washington's Rich Alexis and Willie
Hurst, holding the tandem to 91 yards
and neutralizing the Washington
offense. Last week, aside from one
draw play, the Wolverines throttled
Western Michigan's running game,
allowing just 13 yards on the ground.
Led by linebackers Larry Foote,
Victor Hobson and Eric Brackins, the
Michigan defense is starting to round
into form. If the Wolverines can shut
down Alexis and Hurst - who are
arguably the best tailback tandem in the
nation - they should be able to handle
Harris and Harvey.
Edge: Michigan
ILLINOIS PASS OFFENSE VS. MICHIGAN
PASS DEFENSE
Illinois' senior quarterback Kurt
Kittner is being touted as a Heisman
Trophy candidate. In his fourth year as
a starter, Kittner has shined in Turner's
passing offense. A big reason for
Kittner's success has been the return of
sophomore wide receiver Brandon
Lloyd, who missed all of last year with
a broken leg. Lloyd gives the Illinois
offense a bonafide home run threat
who can score any time he touches the
ball.
As for Michigan's pass defense, the
Wolverines have almost all of the com-
ponents in place. Michigan's pass rush
recorded seven sacks last week, and
safeties Julius Curry, Cato June and
Charles Drake have been solid.
Conspicuously absent from praise
are Michigan's cornerbacks. The
thought of Brandon Lloyd (and later
on, Charles Rogers, Ron Johnson, Lee
Evans, Antwaan Randle El, John
Standeford, etc. ) being defended by
some combination of Jeremy LeSueur,
Todd Howard and Brandon Williams is
downright scary.
Michigan has to get consistent pres-
sure on Kittner, and the safeties have to
always remember to provide deep help.
Otherwise, Lloyd will be single-cov-
ered by a Michigan cornerback, and,
well ... does the name Plaxico Burress
mean anything?
Edge: Illinois

By Raphael Goodstein
Daily Sports Editor
You can bet that Illinois' star quarterback Kurt
Kittner noticed Western Michigan quarterback
Jeff Welsh's 374-yard passing performance last
week.
Kittner, whom Illinois has been hyping as a
Heisman contender, played well enough to beat
Michigan last year, although Michigan ultimate-
ly won 35-31 in controversial fashion. He is
arguably the best drop-back quarterback in col-
lege football and is a four-year starter.
Factor in wide receivers Brandon Lloyd and
Walter Young, and the Michigan secondary will
need its best performance of the season for
Michigan to win.
"He'll probably be the first quarterback draft-
ed (by the NFL) next spring," Michigan coach
Lloyd Carr said. "First of all, he's tough. You're
not going to rattle him. He knows where to go
with the football. He's smart. He's seen every
coverage, every blitz.
"He can hurt you running the football, he's
just a guy who has a knack, an instinct, when to
tuck the ball and run with it. He's without a
question the leader of that football team.
Anytime you have a quarterback like Kittner,
you're tough to beat"
And Michigan beat Illinois last year.
Kittner, who is averaging close to 300 yards a
game this year, is trying to lead the twenty-sec-
ond-ranked Fighting Illini to their first 4-0 start
since 1951 after wins over then-No. 25
Louisville, Northern Illinois and California.
What's more, if he leads Illinois to a win over
No. 17 Michigan on national television, more
than just the Illinois Athletic Department would
consider him a legitimate Heisman contender.
In 1994, Colorado running back Rashaan
Salaam did just that when he ran wild against the
Michigan defense en route to winning the
award.
"I'm glad we got through the three games with
three wins and now we can really concentrate
and focus on Michigan," Kittner said.

This Saturday, Kurt Kittner will gunning for his second straight win over Michigan at the Big House.

"Obviously there's no looking past Michigan. It's
a great place and a great atmosphere and it's the
Big Ten opener so we need to come out and make
a statement this week. Obviously there's a rivalry
between us, especially after the last two years."
Two years ago, Illinois came to Michigan and
overcame a 27-7 deficit to win 35-29.
So how do you stop Kittner?
What you have to do is pressure the quarter-
back," Carr said. "A guy like Kurt (Kittner) and
their system, they're going to make it very diffi-
cult to sack him. He understands, he knows
when to get rid of the ball. The thing you can't
do is let him stand back there.
"All the guys who are really playing well up
front forus are guys who a year ago weren't big
enough or strong enough. We have guys who
have ability to put pressure on the quarterback
without blitzing. It allows you to keep from
over-committing to stop the run. You don't have
to blitz all the time. Defense is like offense, you
want to be balanced."

Balance is exactly what Kittner brings to the
Illinois passing attack.
In last week's 34-10 over then-No. 25
Louisville, eight different receivers caught a
pass. Young led the receiving unit with 90 yards
on four catches.
And that doesn't even include Lloyd.
"Add a guy like (Brandon) Lloyd ... we saw
what he could do as a freshman, now he's a
junior," Carr said. "He missed a year but he has
not missed a beat."
It's understandable why cornerback Todd
Howard is worried about Illinois' star passer.
"KurtKittner is an experienced quarterback, a
four-year starter," Howard said. "In high school
he was a highly touted player. He's developed
into one of the best in college.
"He has good protection and makes his con-
fidence better, knowing he will have time to
throw. My knowledge of quarterback is that I'm
sure he prepares well and watches more film
than most. He knows what he's looking for."

Western Michigan's Jeff Welsh passed for over 350 yards last Saturday. Defensive lineman Shawn Lazarus and Michigan will
have to contain the pass better against Illinois this Saturday If they expect to win.

SPECIAL TEAMS
Last weekend, Michigan senior
Hayden Epstein handled field goals
but surrendered the punting chores to
freshman Adam Finley. Overall, the
results were mixed - Epstein had a
good leg on field goals (even though he
hit the goalpost on one) while Finley
was nothing spectacular.
What has been very good for the
Wolverines is Julius Curry's play as a
punt returner. Curry has 'made
Michigan fans forget about the days
when forcing the other team to punt
wasn't a guarantee that Michigan
would get the ball (see: James Whitley.)
At one point in the recent past, the
Wolverines would be thrilled not to
fumble a punt - now, Curry is a threat
to break a long return every time he
touches the ball.
Illinois used two kickers last week,
although JJ Tubbs is the primary
option. Defensive backs Eugene
Wilson and Christian Morton are solid
but not spectacular kickoff and punt
returners.
In a fairly even matchup, Epstein's
strong leg and Curry's explosiveness
could give Michigan a slight edge.
Edge: Michigan

INTANGIBLES
Two years ago, a 3-3 Illinois team
came back from a 27-7 third-quarter
deficit to shock the Wolverines, 35-29,
at Michigan Stadium. The win was the
turning point in Illinois' season, as the
Fighting Illini went 8-4 and won the
MicronPC.com Bowl.
Then, last year, Illinois entered the
Michigan game with huge expecta-
tions. The Fighting Illini were national-
ly-ranked and were shooting for a
major bowl bid. Instead, Illinois
watched in horror as Michigan scored
two fourth-quarter touchdowns to
escape Champaign with a 35-31 win.
The Fighting Illini collapsed after that
loss and finished 5-6.
The point? Both teams have redemp-
tion on their minds. Illinois wants to
make up for last year's collapse, while
Michigan hasn't forgotten what hap-
pened two seasons ago. Plus, both of
these teams think they can win the Big
Ten, so this game is huge for everyone.
So, the intangibles are a dead heat.
Edge: Even

PREDICTION
Illinois has a lot to prove after crash-
ing and burning last year, but it won't
be easy. The Wolverines recovered after
losing to Illinois two years ago to finish
9-2 and advance to the Orange Bowl,
but they still haven't forgotten what it
felt like to lose a game they had all but
won.
If Illinois' offensive line can contain
Michigan's ferocious pass rush, Kittner
and Lloyd could have a field day
against the Wolverines' secondary.
Harris and Harvey will have a tough
time gaining much yardage on the
ground, but they will have to do so to
prevent the Fighting Illini from becom-
ing one-dimensional.
Illinois' defense has shown signs of
improvement, but Michigan is the most
balanced offense the Fighting Illini
have faced. Illinois has to find a way to
contain Askew while preventing
Michigan's wideouts from running
wild in the secondary. If they can do
those two things, they will reduce
Michigan quarterback John Navarre's
effectiveness.
In what looks to be a close, highly-
entertaining contest, Michigan's ability
to run and stop the run should be the
difference. The guess here is that the
Wolverines will get a leg up in the Big
Ten race - and erase the ghosts of two
years ago - by knocking off Illinois.
Michigan 24, Illinois 17

Illinois natives set for personal rivalry week

ILLINOIS 28
MICHIGAN 76
Before every football game this season, Daily football writ-
ers Jeff Phillips and Jon Schwartz will take the weekend's
matchup to the Playstation 2.
For this week's matchup, coach Phillips led the visiting
Fighting Illini and coach Schwartz took the helm for the
Wolverines again.
Play of the game - With the score at 28-14 at halftime,
Illinois foolishly kicked the ball to RB No. 23. With ample
use of the juke button, RB No. 23 was able to take the
ball 102 yards to paydirt.
Most unrealistic play of the game - See above.
Player of the game - Michigan's RB No. 23. Not only did
he have a 102-yard kickoff return, but he also ran for 164
yards and four touchdowns on just 21 carries.
Michigan key stats
Passing: QB No. 16 - 9-of-16, 267 yards passing, 4 TDs,
278.9 pass rating
Rushing: RB No. 23 - 21 carries, 164 yards, 4 TDs
Receiving: WR No. 4 - 2 receptions, 114 yards, 1 TD;
WR No. 19 - 3 receptions, 91 yards; WR No. 27 - 2
receptions, 23 yards, 2 TDs
Defense: 2 forced fumbles, 8 sacks, 2 interceptions (LB
No. 51: 1 forced fumble, 4 sacks, 6 tackles)
Illinois key stats
Passing: QB No. 15 - 21-of-40, 431 yards passing, 4 TDs
Rushing: RB No. 23 - 6 carries, 19 yards
Receiving: WR No. 6 - 6 receptions, 102 yards, 1 TD;
WR No. 18 - 5 receptions, 134 yards, 2 TDs
PRESS CONFERENCE QUOTES:
Illinois head coach Jeff Phillips:
I feel like Bobby Bowden after the North Carolina game. I just
couldn't get my players motivated. They have to learn that
they can t half-ass their way through life, or college football
video games for that matter ...
Sources close to the Michigan program indicate that coach
Schwartz hasbeen practicing a lot lately in preparation for
this game ...
It is always hard to make the transition from the pros back to
the college game. I feel I was vastly unprepared for coaching
a college game after two weeks of only pro games. Now I
know how Pete Carroll feels.
I don't think this game has passed me. I just don't know if I
can connect with the modern college player. Itsis a different
mentality with these kids..
I was surprised by how poorly QB No. 15 played. Yeah, some
Heisman Trophy candidate - maybe if he plans on playing at
'Junior Varsity' for an entire season ...
Michigan head coach Jon Schwartz:
I'll tell you one thing, that was a good team we played today,
there was no quit in them. They gave us everything we could
handle and my boys responded beautifully ...
Game ball gos to RB No. 23. With an injured knee, he still
ran for 164fyards and four touchdowns. I don't know too
many people that could've done that ...
I thought the Illinois defense was really awful. I really don't
know what they are going to do to get back. Corso can kiss
my ass. I heard him up there in the press box talking about
how good Illinois was going to be, but we won by 48 points ...
If Illinois' QB No. 15 is a Heisman 'hopeful' then I want to be
in New York when they actually give the award to CB 'Just
hand him the Heisman' No. 3 ...
I told you we were going to shock the world ...

By Jon Schwartz
Daily Sports Editor
When one looks at Michigan's schedule, a few games pop off the page.
There's Michigan State, always a huge in-state rivalry. There's Penn State,
a matchup between two legendary college football programs, even if one
has recently fallen on hard times. And there's Ohio State, year-in, year-out
the most anticipated matchup in the Big Ten.
Of course, all of Michigan's games are special. On the schedules of its
Big Ten opponents, the Michigan date is often circled as a defining game
of the season.
Still, generally speaking, the Illinois game rarely stands in the same light
as those marquee games listed above.
But for a few Wolverines, facing the Illini can be the bread and butter of
the season.
"The last few seasons have made for a great rivalry," senior cornerback
Todd Howard said. Howard, a native of Bolingbrook, IlL. is one of four
Michigan regulars that hail from the Prairie State.
Two of the others, center Kurt Anderson and offensive lineman Tony
Pape also spoke of the excitement that comes with playing their home-
state school.
"It's our Michigan State game and it's really big for me," Anderson said.
His brother, Erick, was an All-America linebacker for the Wolverines in
1991.
"Growing up before Erick came here, the Michigan game was always a
big game. It was evident because I had one neighbor that played at
Michigan and one at Illinois so il was a big week''
Part of what makes the game so big for the Illinois natives is the fact that
they chose to leave the state, rather than play in Champaign.

"When decision time came, Illinois was a school that I thought about,"
said Pape, a Clarendon Hills native. "Michigan just had more to offer me
and it was the same distance from home. I had too many friends going to
Illinois so I wanted to go somewhere new and meet new people and find
a new experience."
Anderson spoke of a similar rationale.
"Obviously," he said, "Erick came here and his advice was to go where
you felt the most comfortable with the coaching staff and I felt Michigan
was the place for me. Nothing against Illinois, but Michigan was wheretmy
heart was."
The last two times that Michigan faced the Illini were epic battles. In
1999, Michigan blew a 27-7 lead late in the third quarter and lost 35-29.
Last year, Illinois was controlling the game until quarterback Drew
Henson entered - his first appearance in the season, already three and a
half games old - and rallied the Wolverines to a 35-31 win.
So for seniors Anderson and Howard, the game has added importance.
This is the third time they'll face Illinois - the teams didn't meet in 1998
- and with their record against the Illini standing at 1-1, the two players
are hoping to prove that they made the right choice.
"Every game is a big game in the Big Ten,"Anderson said, "but there is
something special about Illinois. Being from Illinois, it's always going to
be a big game for me."
As with almost every teamin the Big Ten, Illinois fans have an ingrained
hatred for the Wolverines, a point that makes winning even more impor-
tant for the players from Illinois.
"All the Illinois people I know like me," Howard joked, but added, "I
know we have some Illinois people on our side.You go there and they yell
out 'you should have come here.' It makes for a great rivalry and it makes
it fun to play"

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