Fighting the Illinois Fighting Illini: Previewing the Michigan Wolverines


On Saturday, Illinois will return to the state of Michigan to face the Michigan Wolverines.

These two programs have matching 5-3 records but are seemingly headed in two totally different directions.

Illinois arrives in Ann Arbor following back-to-back dominant wins against Indiana and Purdue.

Michigan is dealing with a three-game losing streak, with its most recent loss coming to a lowly Penn State team that Illinois defeated in State College.

With both teams fighting for the last win needed for bowl eligibility, Saturday’s game should be an exciting one to watch.

How Michigan Has Fared This Season

Michigan entered the season surrounded in turmoil. The program was undergoing an NCAA investigation for alleged infractions regarding practice time. The NCAA will decide tomorrow if it will impose any penalties on the program beyond those the school imposed on itself.

Michigan had also undergone back-to back losing seasons for the first time since 1962-63.

The Wolverines shot out of the gates early, led by quarterback Denard Robinson. The sophomore had been a backup to Tate Forcier last season, but this year he won out in training camp to become the starter.

In the first game of the season, Michigan beat UConn 30-10 at home, with Robinson setting a Wolverines’ record for rushing yards by a quarterback and bursting onto the national scene.

In the second game of the season, the Wolverines took on hated rival Notre Dame. Again Robinson stole the show. He broke his record for rushing yards set the previous week and led the Wolverines on a game-winning drive as time expired to win the game.

Thanks in large part to Robinson, the Wolverines would win their first 5 games and move back into the national polls. He dominated the Heisman race for the first 5 weeks, leading the nation in rushing and being in the top 10 in passing.

However, the Wolverines are now on a three-game losing streak thanks to their porous defense.

Michigan’s defense has been woeful all season, giving up an average of 30 points per game to its opponents.

After a 5-0 start quieted many of the fans in Ann Arbor, they are once again calling for Coach Rich Rodriguez to be replaced. If the Wolverines fail to make a bowl for a third straight year, their wishes will likely be granted.

Illinois – Michigan Series History

The Illinois – Michigan rivalry has been decidedly one-sided.

Illinois is 23-66-2 against the Wolverines, and while the Illini have won the last two meetings (the first time Illinois has won consecutive meetings since the 50’s), the Illini are 4-16 in the past 20 years.

The good news is that 3 of the past 4 victories have come in Ann Arbor.

In the past two meetings (the only two between Rodriguez and Ron Zook), Illinois has won by double-digit margins.

However, while this year’s Illini should be able to put up a ton of points again against a terrible Michigan secondary, the question is can their defense stop Robinson?

Key Matchups

Denard Robinson vs. the Illinois Defense

Denard Robinson is Michigan’s offense. He is their leading rusher and passer. He still leads the nation in rushing yards and has the 23rd best quarterback rating in the nation.

While Michigan is on a three-game losing streak, Robinson has been spectacular. If not for a few interceptions, he would still be the Heisman leader.

Despite every opponent’s defense trying to stop the star quarterback, only one has been able to hold Robinson to less than 100 yards rushing, and that was a game when he had more than 200 yards passing.

Illinois’ defense is red-hot coming off back-to-back dominant performances, but can the Illini do what no one has been able to do thus far, stop Denard Robinson?

Mikel Leshoure vs. Michigan’s Defense

After 3 sub-100 yard rushing games, Leshoure must be salivating at the possibilities for the upcoming game.

Michigan is suffering from injuries on an already thin-defense, and the last opponent that the Wolverines faced with a back of Leshoure’s caliber, Michigan State, was able to put up 250 yards rushing.

While Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase will likely get more passing opportunities against a dreadful secondary, expect Leshoure to have another strong game.

Nathan Scheelhaase vs. Pressure Situations

While Scheelhaase did fantastic in his first road game at Penn State, he struggled when the team traveled to Michigan State.

While it is unclear how much of his struggles were due to the road environment and how much were due to the Spartans’ tough defense, he will have to keep his wits about him in his first trip to College Football’s most memorable venue, the Big House.

Three Players To Watch

Mikel Leshoure

Leshoure is poised to have a huge game after three subpar performances. The Big House is the perfect for him to rejoin the discussion as one of the Big Ten’s top backs.

With backup running back Jason Ford still questionable following his injury against Indiana, Leshoure will get the majority of the runs, and since Michigan has the offense to keep it in the game, Leshoure won’t have to sit out the last quarter if the Illini go up big early.

AJ Jenkins

Like Leshoure, Jenkins can’t wait to get a chance to shine in the Big House.

Jenkins has become the favorite target of Scheelhaase, and with Michigan’s banged up secondary, Jenkins and fellow receiver Fayson could have career games.

Corey Liuget

The Illini’s leader in sacks will have his hands full with Robinson. The quarterback has filled highlight reels by dodging sacks in the backfield and scrambling for huge gains.

Liuget and the rest of the defensive line must at least contain the quarterback to keep him from reaching the secondary.

Until tomorrow and the Thursday Cram Session.