Michigan poised to roll Fighting Jilini
By STEPHEN J. NESBITT
Let's be clear from the outset:
Illinois will have to do just about
everything right on Saturday to
topple the No. 25
Michigan foot- Illinois at
It's not an Michigan
matchup, but the Illinois 2-4;
Fighting Illini Michigan 3-2
(0-2 Big Ten, 2-4 When: Satur-
overall) have the day 3:30 P.M.
worst offense Where: Michi-
and worst gan Stadium
defense statisti- TV/Radio:
cally in the con- BTN
21.2 points per
game and allowing 28.3.
Michigan (1-0, 3-2), on the other
hand, has played stiffer competi-
tion yet still stands in the middle of
the pack in the Big Ten. With losses
to two ranked opponents under
their belts, the Wolverines have
averaged 31.6 points per game and
allowed 21.0 points per game.
Regardless of the statistics, the
game willbe played, and we're here
to break it down. Michigan and
Illinois will take the field at Michi-
gan Stadium for a 3:30 p.m. kickoff
Michigan pass offense vs. Illinois
This is probably the closest pair-
ingheadinginto Saturday, and it's a
battle of weaknesses.
Seniorquarterback Denard Rob-
inson, offensive coordinator Al
Borge4 and the Michigan offense
aren't known for their pass-happy
ways. Robinson is a danger to dash
out of the pocket and beat defenses
on the ground, but he's struggled in
the passing game throughout his
This fall, Robinson has thrown
eight interceptions on just 115 pass
attempts - only Auburn's Kiehl
Frazier has a higher intercep-
tion rate in more than 100 pass
attempts. A 44-13 victory over Pur-
due in West Lafayette last weekend
was the second time in the last 13
games that Robinson didn't throw
The debate, though, is whether
the Fighting Illini secondary can
capitalize on Robinson's weakness
in the air game. Their track record
answers "probably not."
Illinois has allowed 226.8 pass-
ing yards per game, and since pick-
ness and relative weakness.
The major weakness is Illinois's
running game, led by redshirt
freshman tailback Josh Ferguson
and sophomore tailback Donovonn
Young. Ferguson has taken over as
the starter this fall, but the Fight-
ing Illini rank last in the Big Ten
averaging just 126.5 rushing yards
Michigan's front seven, though,
has also struggled. The statistics
may be slightly skewed because
the Wolverines allowed 290 yards
to the triple-option offense of Air
Force in week two, but Michigan
also allowed 232 rushing yards to
No. lAlabama in the season opener.
The Wolverines have held oppo-
nents to 112, 94 and 56 rushing
yards and only one touchdown in
the last three games against Mas-
sachusetts, Notre Dame and Pur-
Given the defensive corps'
recent stonewalling, the Michi-
gan defense takes the advantage
against Illinois's rushing attack.
Michigan redshirt junior kicker
Brendan Gibbons (6-for-8 on field
goals) gets the edge over Illinois'
duo of freshman Taylor Zalewski
(2-for-4) and sophomore Nick
Gibbons was 3-for-4 in Michi-
gan's win over Purdue on Satur-
day, and his only miss, a 44-yard
attempt, plunked off the bottom
crossbar and landed short.
Junior punter Will Hagerup is
tops in the nation averaging 49.7
yards per punt, over 13 yardsbetter
per punt than last season.
Though neither team has
returned a kickoff for a touch-
down, Michigan freshman Dennis
Norfleet has returned five kicks for
over 30 yards, while Illinois hasn't
had a single 30-yard return.
Hoke is a perfect 10-0 at home
since he arrived in Ann Arbor.
Michigan is coming off a blowout
victory over Purdue to start the
Big Ten season and hasn't lost to
Illinois since 2009. The defense is
rounding into form and so are Rob-
inson and the offense.
It's all leaning Michigan's way.
Senior quarterback Denard Robinson should have little trouble picking apart the Illinois defense on the ground or the air.
ing off three passes in the season
opener against Western Michigan,
it has forced just one interception
in the last five games.
Michigan rush offense vs. Illinois
You know where this is going.
The Wolverines have Robinson,
one of the most dynamic sprinter
in college football, to go to in the
backfield. He is flanked by redshirt
junior running back Fitzgerald
Toussaint. Both accumulated over
1,000 yards rushing lastseason, but
it's been a one-sided affair this fall.
The Michigan offense has aver-
aged 208.4 yards per game this sea-
son, and Robinson averages 135.2 of
Toussaint, after missing the
season opener due to a suspension,
has spun his tires, gaining just 42.2
yards per game.
The Wolverines undoubtedly
will continue to try and get Tous-
saint up and running on Satur-
day against an Illinois front that's
allowed 124.5 rushing yards per
game and a Big Ten-high 11 rushing
The Michigan backfield tandem
should do just fine to carry the
offense past Illinois if Robinson
doesn't find success through the
Illinois pass offense vs. Michigan
Like the Wolverines, the Fight-
ing Illini have an offense domi-
nated by the run, especially with
junior quarterback Nathan Scheel-
haase at the helm.
Scheelhaase, who was spelled by
sophomore Reilly O'Toole early in
the season, is a dual-threat quar-
terback that Michigan coach Brady
Hoke has keyed in on during game
week. Hoke said he had the defense
playing a 'chase the rabbit,' drill
this week to prepare for Scheel-
But Scheelhaase's passing has
leveled out as mediocre at best.
Scheelhaase has maintained a
completion percentage of just over
62 percent during two seasons as
a starter, but he has thrown five
interceptions and just three touch-
downs this fall.
Scheelhaase's favorite target is
junior Ryan Lankford, who has col-
lected 25 catches for 362 yards and
Across the line of scrimmage,
Michigan's defense has been
unbreakable in the passing game.
The secondary has allowed just
155.0 yards per game this fall, good
for first in the Big Ten and seventh
Despite the defensive line's lack
of pressure on opposing quarter-
backs, the defense has managed
more interceptions (4) thanpassing
touchdowns (3) this fall.
Illinois rush offense vs. Michigan
Here's a matchup of major weak- Final score: Michigan 35, Illinois17
8 1 FootballSaturday - October 13, 2012