After two heartbreaking and disappointing losses the Illini face their toughest challenge of the year on Saturday, as they take on #3 Michigan at The Big House in Ann Arbor. Let’s take a look at the Wolverines.
Michigan has the #2 offense in Big 10, averaging 41.4 points per game. They’re led by junior running back Blake Corum, aHeisman Trophy Candidate. Corum is third in the Big Ten in rushing yards per game (134.9), and has found the end zone 17 times. Corum has had at least 1 touchdown in every game this year, along with seven straight games with at least 100 yards rushing and touchdown. Needless to say, he is the straw that stirs Michigan’s offensive drink. Illinois’s run defense somehow has to clamp down on him.
The Michigan passing attack is not nearly as dominant, partly due to Corum running it so well. Sophomore quarterback J.J. McCarthy is only the 11th-rated passer in the Big Ten. However, he is extremely efficient, throwing 14 touchdown passes against 2 interceptions.
McCarthy’s favorite target is Ronnie Bell who is the 11th-rated wide receiver in the B1G, averaging 59.7 yards per game and 2 touchdowns. Needless to say, Michigan prefers to run the ball behind their strong offensive line and wear you down.
Michigan’s defense is excellent. Ranking first in the Big 10, allowing just 11.2 points per game, the Wolverines are led by two pass rushers: senior Mike Morris (5th in the Big 10 in tackles, 7.5 sacks, 11 tackles for loss) and junior edge Jaylen Harrell (5.5 sacks). Once the Wolverines get up on you, they let the pass rushers get to work. Lurking behind them is sophomore linebacker Junior Colton, who has 67 tackles on the year and 2 sacks.
Michigan is one of the most balanced teams in the county with their margin of victory being 30.2 points per game. Bottom line: they pound and pound you with Corum, get the lead, force you to pass, and then pin their ears back coming after you with their pass rushers.
By this game, we were all hoping that the Illini would be 9-1, a top-10 team, already crowned champions of the Big 10 West.
Now, we’re just hoping the Illini don’t get blown out. Maybe Michigan will overlook the Illini with “The Game” coming up next week vs. Ohio State. Maybe the Illini can have game like 1992, when Jason Verduzco led the Illini to a tie. Or better yet a year later, when Johnny Johnson found Jimmy Kline in the end zone. Or 1999 when Kurt Kittner and company defeated Tom Brady. Or 2008 when “Juice” Williams set a record for most total yards by an opponent at The Big House.
After the last two weeks, the Illini are due for some luck.