Illinois Preview

Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, MI
October 13, 2012, 3:30 PM

TV: ABC/ESPN (Bob Wischusen, Danny Kanell, Lewis Johnson)
Radio: WWJ-950 AM, WTKA-1050 AM, SiriusXM 92/192 (Frank Beckmann, Jim Brandstatter, Doug Karsch)
Line: UM -25
O/U: 49
Series Record: UM leads 68-23-2
Last Meeting: Nov 12, 2011: MICH 31 - ILL 14
UM Record/Rank: 3-2 (1-0), #25/-/-
ILL Record/Rank: 2-4 (0-2), unranked
Gametime Forecast: Upper 50s, 60% chance of rain.

It's homecoming!

Who knew that Illinois faithful would be pining for the Ron Zook era.
The good ole days. Source.
Relevant links from sites we trust
My UM-ILL stats analysis. Kyle Meinke's 5 keys to victory. MZone's Know Your Foe. MGoBlog's Illinois FFFF. Hoke's Mad Magicians' Illinois Players to Watch.

Other Previews
Maize N Brew, Touch the Banner, Tremendous, Big House Blog, BWS.


When Michigan has the ball
For as much as Illinois' offense is lacking in depth and talent, the defense isn't actually that least on paper. Albeit, they have played some rather questionable non-conference opponents that might have boosted those team stats a bit.

A year ago, Illinois was a downright good defense. They had depth, experience, a great pass rush...and I think with a suitable offense, they could have turned that 6-0 start to the season into a 10-win year, easily. But the offense sputtered and things fell apart quickly.

Now, I'll admit, I haven't really seen much of Illinois this year. I did watch a bit of their loss to Penn State a couple weeks ago, and from what I saw in that game, the defense played mediocre at best, and made Penn State look way better than I think they were, at least at that point in the season. It was a little surprising to me, as I had Illinois winning that game. I'm still a little surprised at how bad Illinois is this year.

 For Michigan, all eyes will be in Fitz and the running game. Funny how the emphasis of this offense changes week-to-week. Last week is was all about Denard getting back to being Denard. But this week, fans want to see the running backs get back to their old form. For me, I don't care if it's Fitz or Rawls...or a combination of the two. I'll be watching the OL in this game. Against this Illini D, Michigan should be able to move the ball on the ground.

As far as Denard goes, I've said a few times that I'm okay with 50% a completion percentage and one or two TDs a game. I'd love to see more throws to Funchess. I think he could be a huge part of this offense going forward. I'd like to see more WRs getting catches, but not if it's at the cost of making Denard do more than he's capable of as a passer. Let the ground game dictate this offense. That's fine with me.

When Illinois has the ball
Last year the Illinois game was defined by how well the defense played. By that time in the 2011 season, the Michigan D was really hitting their stride. That game was one of the season highlights for me simply because it was a B1G road game in November, and Michigan dominated.

Illinois' offense this year is a shell of what it has been in recent years. For so long, the fate of the Illinois offense has rested on the shoulders of Nathan Scheelhaase. So far this year, his bum ankle has kept him out of a couple games, and severely impacted his running ability.

MLive's Nick Baumgardner on Scheelhaase:
But after an 84-yard game on the ground last week at Wisconsin, the Illini finally believe they've got their old signal-caller back -- the same one who has created matchup problems for Big Ten defenses since beginning his career in 2010.

"Nathan is back to himself," said Illinois coach Tim Beckham, who will lead his team into Michigan Stadium on Saturday to take on the 25th-ranked Wolverines (3:30 p.m., ABC). He's back to Nathan Scheelhaase."
Whether he's back to his old ways will be key for Illinois tomorrow. Last year, a healthy Scheelhaase was kept under wraps by Michigan's defense, going just 16 yards on 14 carries on the ground, and 16 for 31 through the air with no touchdowns and 1 pick.

Much of Nathan's struggles can be attributed to lack of protection.
Scheelhaase's ankle may be healed, but Illinois' pass-protection isn't. The Illini have allowed a league-worst 20 sacks through six games this season.

Some of that, Beckham says, is on the offensive line. The rest of it, however, is on Scheelhaase.

"We, as an offensive football team, have got to protect Nathan and he's got to feel a bit better in the pocket when the pressure is on him," he said. "We've got to create better opportunities for Nathan and we've got to protect him better."
Why are we focusing in so much on Scheelhaase and not the rest of the Illini offense? Frankly, he is the Illini offense. RBs Donnovonn Young and Josh Ferguson aren't really as much of a threat. The WR corps consists of pretty much Ryan Lankford, and then a host of warm bodies.

As is the story for Illinois pretty much over the last 3 years: Stop Scheelhaase. Stop Illinois.

Make boisterous comments on Twitter if...
• Fitz is getting 4+ yards per carry.
• The Michigan D, especially the secondary, is keeping Scheelhaase on lockdown.
• Denard is doing what he was doing a week ago.

Cancel recording on your DVR if...
• The "Non-Denard running game" is nowhere to be found.
• Scheelhaase is doing 2010 things to Michigan's D.
• Michigan is playing down to their competition via turnovers and penalties.

Michigan 45 Illinois 14

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