Game Preview: Illinois Fighting Illini-Michigan Wolverines

Bradley Leeb-US PRESSWIRE

Yeah this is one of those games that one team looks totally over-matched, yet they hang around long enough to think they have a chance to win. The Illinois Fighting Illini have lost three in a row and there already slim bowl hopes could be all but dashed over the next couple of weeks. They’ll take on a Michigan Wolverines team that has picked themselves up after being run over by the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. The Wolverines were dominant last week at the Purdue Boilermakers. I was frankly surprised at how easily they moved the ball on the ground against a pretty strong Purdue front 7. The Illini defense will have their hands full and it’s not like they’ve been very good as it is.

EYE ON THE ENEMY:

Michigan to me is a very good football team that some went way overboard on. One pollster even voted them preseason number one  in the AP poll. When they started playing the games it quickly showed why they can’t even be talked about in that stratosphere  They have a talented but wildly inconsistent quarterback (Denard Robinson), a shaky defensive line and a team in transition. Offensive coordinator Al Borges clearly wants to play more power football. However, he hasn’t fully embraced the pro style we’ve heard we’d see although I see that changing this week. The Illini’s strength on defense is their pass rush led by Michael Buchanan. Keep them off balance with the power game. The Wolverines have to be careful not to look ahead to the rivalry game with the Michigan State Spartans next week because if they do a game that they should easily win could get interesting like the Air Force Falcons game did.

KEYS FOR THE ILLINI

- Get Ryan Lankford the ball. You’ve shown you really can’t run the ball. He’s your best playmaker and you can use short passes and quick hitters as a way to keep the Michigan defense honest.

- Let Nate be Nate. Don’t bottle up your dual threat quarterback Nathan Scheelhasse. He nearly gained 100 yards on the ground last week against the Wisconsin Badgers and has the ability to make a big play with his feet. I know you don’t want him getting hurt again but without him your backup Reilly O’Toole has had little success anyways. You’ve got to bring all your weapons into this one.

- Akeem Spence needs to step up. He’s been a bit of an underachiever this year but he could be huge against a relatively weak interior offensive line for Michigan. If he can constantly command double teams then linebackers Mason Monheim and Jonathan Brown can work in space where they are most effective.

- Play a lot of straight up coverage. The defense is young, especially in the secondary, and you aren’t facing a great thrower. Don’t confused them by trying to be overly complex with your pre-snap/post-snap looks. I’d sit back in Cover 4 and force Robinson to beat you with his short throws. That should keep the game manageable for the most part.

- Keep your head in the game. The Illini have had some awful starts so far this season and it looks like they are quitting when the going gets tough. No one expects you to win this game so just go out and play football. Sure you have pressure playing in the “Big House” but just enjoy the moment.

PREDICTION:

Michigan is on the rebound and I expect them to be a big player in the Big Ten as the season rolls on. However, they tend to look past opponents and not close the deal. I think Illinois will stay within shouting distance until about the mid 3rd quarter when the Wolverines go up by two scores and never look back. Michigan 30 – Illinois 16.

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