This Saturday we will see a game showcasing two teams coming off of devastating loses. The Michigan Wolverines will be coming to Champaign, Illinois after a 16-24 loss against the Iowa Hawkeyes. Illinois enjoyed a bye week last week and will look to get back on track after three straight losses. Their last loss was a heart breaking game against the Penn State Nittany Lions. Derek Dimke’s missed field goal in the closing minutes ended up spelling doom for the Fighting Illini.
Last year these two teams played to the limit. After three overtimes, the Michigan Wolverines came out on top with an end score of 67-65. The 2010 match-up was an offensive battle where quarterbacks Denard Robinson and Nathan Scheelhaase dueled it out. Both quarterbacks are top tier in the dual-threat category. This is a new year and two new teams. Both Michigan and Illinois will look to end the season on the right foot this Saturday. After starting both their seasons with undefeated records, losses to Big Ten opponents have both teams looking to rebound. Illinois is on a three game losing streak after losing to Ohio State, Purdue, and Penn State. Michigan’s losses came from opponents Michigan State and Iowa.
The last time these two teams played in Champaign, Illinois, the Fighting Illini claimed victory 38-13. If Illinois can pull the upset, this will be the first time Illinois has beaten Michigan back-to-back times at home since the years 1955 and 1957. During their bye week, Illinois head coach Ron Zook took the team back to fundamentals. This was a must. Mistakes and turnovers have plagued Illinois all season. The only difference in their last three games was the fact their opponents were able to get points off of them. This upset may not be to out of reach since the Wolverines have struggled on the road this year.The difference maker for the Michigan Wolverines has been the athleticism of quarterback Denard Robinson. The last three games though, Denard has been hindered by the defense of his opponents. In each game, Denard has thrown for less than 200 yards and ran for no more than 63 yards. Overall, he posted 5 total touchdowns and three interceptions. In the loss against Iowa, Robinson failed to move his offense from the red zone into the endzone four times in the last sixteen seconds of the game. A big difference between the Wolverines last year and the Wolverines this year has been the play of their defense. The brought in defensive coordinator Greg Mattison from the Baltimore Ravens. This has been only a minor improvement.
Even though both of these quarterbacks are comparable, Michigan’s Denard Robinson has 13 touchdowns with 12 interceptions this year. While Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase has 12 touchdowns with just 5 interceptions. Denard Robinson’s 12 TD and 13 picks is the fourth most in the nation. Illinois has 19 turnovers so far this year, which leads the Big Ten. Michigan isn’t that far behind, committing 16 turnovers themselves.
The deciding factor for this game will be the play of the Illinois defense. Illinois has the nation’s sixth-ranked defense, allowing 280.1 yards per game. Illinois’ opponents have only averaged 17.2 points per game. Defensive end Whitney Mercilus leads the nation with 11.5 sacks and 6 forced fumbles. Look for the Illinois defense to put pressure on Denard Robinson and for them to block the middle run lane. I believe we’re going to see an Illinois victory. The passing game will come alive with A.J. Jenkins adding to his season of 1,000+ receiving yards. Nathan Scheelhaase will improve his ability to manage the game. He will also keep his “happy feet” in control. With Scheelhaase and the Illini run game as support, Illinois will be able to match scores with Michigan. Illinois’ defense will keep Denard Robinson and the Wolverines in check while banking on their turnovers.
With Wisconsin and Minnesota left on the schedule, Illinois has a great opportunity to end their regular season 8-4.
This game will be close, but the Wolverines will head back to Ann Arbor with the loss. It’s time for Illinois to bring the “Paign.”
Prediction: Illinois 38, Michigan 35