Preview: Michigan vs Illinois

Michigan Wolverines
Illinois Fighting Illini

Game Stuff
When: November 6, 2010
Where: Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, MI
Time: 12:00 PM EST
TV: ESPN National (Bob Wischusen, Brian Griese)
Local Radio: FM 104.3 WOMC, AM 1050 WTKA
Line: Michigan -3
Over/Under: 57.5
Series Record: UM Leads 66-23-2
Last Meeting: UI 38 @ UM 13 (2009) 
Michigan Record: 5-3 (1-3)
Last Game: Loss at Penn State 31-41

Illinois Stuff
Location: Champaign, IL
Enrollment: 41,495
Conference: Big Ten
Nickname: Fighting Illini
Head Coach: Ron Zook
OC: Paul Petrino
DC: Vic Koenning
Illinois Record: 5-3 (3-2)
Last Game: Win @ Purdue 44-10
2009 Record: 3-9 (2-6)

A Little History
Remember this? Halloween day last year? Roy Roundtree's break away 76-yard reception in the second half? Remember when he was caught from behind (waaaaay behind), and tackled at the 1? They called it a touchdown on the field, but the after the replay they ruled it he was down at the 1. Then we had 4 chances to score from there and we didn't. Remember that?

We were about to go up 20-7. We were about to put the nail into Illinois and sail off into a bowl game for the first time since the 07 season. Instead, we couldn't score from the 1. The game's momentum swung dramatically in the opposite direction. Illinois took the ball and went 99 yards on the ensuing drive, which included a 70-yard run by Illinois RB Mikel Leshoure. Remember that?

Yeah. That's enough history.

Statistical Breakdown (stats through 10-30-10)
MICHIGANValue (Nat. Rank)Value (Nat. Rank)ILLINOISAdvantage
Rushing Offense (ypg)275.5 (8)117.5 (26)Rushing Defense (ypg)PUSH
Passing Offense (ypg)242.88 (43)183.88 (19)Passing Defense (ypg)ILL
Pass Efficiency155.33 (19)113.05 (25)Pass Efficiency DefensePUSH
Total Offense (ypg)518.38 (4)301.38 (15)Total Defense (ypg)PUSH
Scoring Offense (ppg)35.38 (19)16.75 (12)Scoring Defense (ppg)PUSH
Rushing Defense (ypg)149.75 (49)194.38 (24)Rushing Offense (ypg)ILL
Passing Defense (ypg)290.5 (117)143.13 (111)Passing Offense (ypg)PUSH
Pass Efficiency Defense141.61 (95)125.85 (72)Pass EfficiencyILL
Total Defense (ypg)440.25 (106)337.5 (85)Total Offense (ypg)ILL
Scoring Defense (ppg)30 (89)26.88 (85)Scoring Offense (ppg)PUSH
Net Punting Yards36.79 (60)2.38 (118)Punt Return YardsMICH
Punt Return Yards5.27 (98)40.2 (9)Net Punting YardsILL+++
Kickoff Return Yards20.22 (93)18.24 (8)Kickoff Return DefenseILL+++
Kickoff Return Defense18.98 (14)20.31 (89)Kickoff Return YardsMICH++
Turnover Margin-.38 (84)0 (55)Turnover MarginILL+
Penalty Yds/Game51.5 (55)55.9 (72)Penalty Yds/GamePUSH
Sacks1.5 (85)2 (67)Sacks AllowedPUSH
Sacks Allowed.38 (2)1.88 (69)SacksMICH++
Redzone Offense (%)82.86 (58)85.19 (80)Redzone Defense (%)MICH
Redzone Defense (%)87.88 (94)96.67 (3)Redzone Offense (%)ILL+++
Redzone TD %74.29 (9)33.33 (3)Redzone TD % DefensePUSH
Redzone TD % Defense69.7 (98)56.67 (78)Redzone TD %ILL
3rd Down Conv. %46.53 (23)35.59 (32)3rd Down Defense %PUSH
3rd Down Defense %44.83 (96)37.86 (75)3rd Down Conv. %ILL
1st Downs Per Game23.1 (23)15.6 (10)1st Downs Allowed Per/GmPUSH
1st Downs Allowed Per/Gm23 (110)18.8 (73)1st Downs Per GameILL

Difference < 20 in national rank = Push
Difference > 20 in national rank = Team
Difference > 40 in national rank = Team+
Difference > 60 in national rank = Team++
Difference > 80 in national rank = Team+++

Random Stuff and Etc
Of course, we start out with some video from the Monday presser. If you haven't seen the David Molk interview yet, you should watch. It's quite something.

Rich Rodriguez:

Also: Jordan Kovacs, Greg Banks

ESPN's Adam Rittenberg who picked us to win last week, picks us to lose by two touchdowns.
Illinois 35, Michigan 21: Anyone else stunned that Michigan is favored in this game? These teams are headed in opposite directions, and it will show up on the field Saturday. Illinois' speedy and athletic defense contains Denard Robinson, while Illini freshman quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase has another big day against a decimated Wolverines' secondary. Illinois gets bowl eligible as the heat continues to rise for the Michigan coaches.

Illinois Offense
Player Stats!
PASSINGComp/AttYardsComp %TD/INTRating
Nathan Scheelhaase102/166109961.410/7128.9
Jarred Fayson1/1231000/0293.2
Mikel Leshoure1587804.9426
Nathan Scheelhaase934514.8282
Jason Ford481743.6122
AJ Jenkins3140913.254(TD)4
Jarred Fayson282398.5291
Mikel Leshoure111029.3321
Evan Wilson79113342
Fred Sykes55310.6180

Why the stats? Because charts are fun, that's why.

Illinois' offense has done a 180 since 2009. And that drastic improvement has slowed down traffic at Freshman QB Nathan Scheelhaase has proven to be the spark that Illinois needed. He's been just as, if not more impressive running the ball than Juice Williams was.

What's interesting is Paul Petrino, Illinois' first-year offensive coordinator doesn't run the spread. It's a pro-style system, yet it still allows the QB to run the ball should he choose to, which he's definitely chosen to. Currently, Scheelhaase is the team's second leading rusher with 451 yards and 2 TDs. But he's not a bad passer either, completing 61% of his passes with 10 TDs and 7 INTs.

Expect those passing (and rushing) numbers to improve as the Michigan defense continues to flounder. We have no answer to a QB with a pulse. Even a sophomore walk-on starting his first game ever (Penn State) can pick us apart.

Expect Nathan Scheelhaase to be a Big Ten player of the week with a monster game this weekend.

Like Adam Rittenberg noted in his preview, Michigan and Illinois are two programs going in opposite directions. Actually, we were both coming up from the cellar in 2009, but Illinois has left us in the dust. This will be no more apparent than when they have the ball. Illinois handled Penn State in Happy Valley back on Oct. 9th, winning 33-13.

They are a very physical offense with a good line and a running back that can hurt you. Mikel Leshoure is averaging 97.5 yards per game, which is good enough to be ranked 25th overall in the country.

To put that into perspective, Penn State's Evan Royster, who put up 150 yards on us last week, is ranked 60th overall in rushing. And that's after last week's dominating performance.

Much like Brandon Graham has come out and said, Michigan needs a major adjustment on defense. His idea is to abandon the 3-3-5, and go back to a more traditional 3-4 that we used last year.
“It’s tough to see the boys struggling, knowing that Michigan, for all them years, was prided on defense,” he said. “They just have to find that niche. The 3-3-5, I don’t think it’s a good look, especially for the type of stuff we see in the Big Ten.”

“Let Coach Robinson play his defense,” Graham said. “Let him do what he knows. He was thrown off, I would say. I know the 3-3-5 is what he (Rodriguez) has been doing for so long. He’s just got to adjust to the Big Ten.”
Couldn't agree more. Clearly, whatever the 3-3-5 is doing, it's not working. AT ALL. Defensive apologists will argue that we're running a "hybrid" 3-3-5, whatever that means. Well, to me, it looks like a 3-3-5 one play, a 3-4 the next, and then back to a 3-3-5. I know the idea was to simplify this defense, but this doesn't seem simple to me. I would argue that against Ohio State last year, our defense actually looked somewhat good. Of course we were probably playing a little more inspired in that game, but it was working.

Of course when your playing 4 or 5 freshmen at the DB spots, it's easy to say that this defense looks confusing. They're lost out there.

I don't know what we can do to slow down this Illinois offense. Hopefully Mike Martin will be able to go. If not, it could be a long day for our defensive front. I hope we put Craig Roh back to the end position, because he was never cut out to be a linebacker. Van Bergen has been the rock on defense this year, but he can't do it alone. Banks is the other starter next to Martin. When Martin is out, Sagasse and Black replace him. But they also see quite a bit of time anyway.

Obi Ezeh did not play against Penn State, and I think he's probably finished his collegiate career. Demens, Fitzgerald, Mouton and the Gordon brothers (Spur position) have played slightly more sucky than the line, but slightly less suck than the DBs.

Illinois Defense
Where we make up a little headway is our offense versus the Illinois defense. Although I will argue that if you look at the statistical breakdown above, in most UM offense vs. UI defense, it's actually a push in most categories. Their pass D will give us fits though.

Up front, Martez Wilson, Clay Nurse and Cory Liuget will be tough, but I do think our line can (i.e. should) take care of business.

One thing that Michigan must do is control the line of scrimmage. We have to focus on our biggest strength, and that is to be able to run the ball (and no, not just with Denard). We need an honest to goodness rushing attack. If we can make that happen, the passing game could open up for us.

But more importantly, it limits the amount of time the defense needs to be on the field, and it could lead to less turnovers, in that we fumble less than we throw INTs.

No 3 and outs. Please. Especially right off the bat. We must be able to come out and score immediately. No more playing catch up. Illinois is going to score some serious points on us. We can either sit back and wait for our non-existent defense to do something, or we can dig in and go blow-for -blow with them. That's the only way we win this game.

Final Thoughts
I'm going to be watching this game from the friendly confines of the UM pressbox, so it's going to be difficult at times to have to censor myself (the pressbox is a working office, thus no cheering allowed). Illinois will score on us, just like MSU, Iowa and Penn State have. They key is no let downs on offense.

We can't let ourselves get down if we get scored on. This could potentially be a thrilling shootout-type of game. If that's the case, you have to favor the home team. But, if we allow Illinois to stop us, or even slow us down offensively, things could spiral out of control.

Keys to winning:
• Ball Control (no turnovers)
• Clock Control (long sustained drives, preferably on the ground)
• No Stupid Penalties

I'm not going to pick a winner, I never do. But I have a feeling like it's going to be a clear victory one way or the other. Either Illinois comes in and just plays very disciplined football and our defense continues to struggle and we get our lunch handed to us, or somehow we find our swagger again, and put up some insane offensive numbers while the defense finally clicks.

Which is more likely? I'm not going to say, but you probably know which one.

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