Michigan vs. Illinois: Brutally Honest Game Preview

Denard Robinson

Guess who leads the Big Ten in rushing the past five years? Surprisingly, it’s not Ohio State or Penn State. During the Zook era (since 2005), it’s actually Illinois.

196.1 yards per game. Wisconsin Badgers: 192.7 ypg in the five year
span. That’s right, you just read something good about Illini head coach
Ron Zook, a man deemed by many to be the college football equivalent of
former Bulls and current Clippers leader Vinny Del Negro.

Get ready because here comes more Zook positive press.

At Illinois, he’s 2-1 against the Wolverines while Michigan head
coach Rich Rodriguez is 0-2 against Illinois. Zook is only the third
coach in school history to beat Michigan twice in his career. Robert
Zuppke (1913-41) defeated the Wolverines nine times and Ray Eliot
(1942-59) had eight wins over UM.

In Ann Arbor, they’re calling for Rodriguez’s head yet again. And
that’s silly because you need to give a coach, any coach, at least
three-four years to get his system in place with his recruits before
evaluating him.


Illinois (5-3, 3-2) synopsis:

The MVP of 2010 is probably newly installed defensive coordinator Vic
Koenning. The Illini rank 12th nationally in points allowed (16.8
ppg), 15th in total defense (301.4 ypg), 19th in pass defense (183.9)
and 26th in rushing yards allowed (117.5 ypg), all while facing the
toughest schedule in the nation.

At the end of last season, Illinois was 96th in scoring defense (30.2
ppg), 100th in pass defense (248.8), 91st in total defense (403.3 ypg)
and 76th in rushing defense (154.4 ypg). Koenning isn’t exactly Mr.
Visibility, as he’s not much for media
activities (not everybody can be Glen Mason!), but he is nothing short
of a miracle worker when you consider what he’s done in just one year
with basically the same personnel.

The decision to hire him has turned out to be the smartest move an
Illini has made since the day I forever ruled out dating women with
lower back tattoos.


Michigan (5-3, 1-3) synopsis:

Big Blue again started fast, and seems to be fading even quicker. For
two teams with the same record, you couldn’t ask for a better example
of a couple squads with polar opposite momentum. Rodriguez’s Michigan
teams approach the concept of stopping the opponent about as seriously
as Sarah Palin takes reading news publications and keeping up with
current events.

In their eight games this season, they’ve given up 20+ in all but
one, and 30+ in five.  On the other side of the ball, they’re pretty
good as they lead the Big Ten in total offense (top ten nationally) and
they lead the conference in rushing (QB Denard Robinson leads individual ground-gainers).

For all the hype and ballyhoo surrounding Denard in the early part of the season, Michigan State
provided a blue print for how to to stop him, and UM’s other opponents
copied. And the one QB on the field Saturday who will actually end the
season with an award is Nathan Scheelhaase, who has wrapped up the conference’s freshman honor.

Guys you’ll see Saturday eventually playing on Sundays:

Mikel LeShoure is not Rashard Mendenhall
yet. But he wears his #5 and could jump this year and be a late first
round/early second round pick, just like Mendenhall did after his
junior year. The last time we saw two great backs like this in orange
and blue wear the same number back-to-back it was #44 in Syracuse with
Jim Brown and Ernie Davis.

Tavon Wilson has NFL measurables and athleticism. Martez Wilson is finally having the breakout year we suspected he would since he got here. Along with Corey Liuget, Terry Hawthorne, Akeem Spence, Hugh Thornton and Jeff Allen. Time to talk about his next-level potential too.

On the other side, Denard Robinson is too small to be a NFL QB or RB,
but he could make a damn fine return specialist. See Antwaan Randle El,
who he could coincidentally pass up Saturday as the Big Ten’s all-time
leading rusher by a quarterback. Steve Schilling could follow in the footsteps of Jake Long, Linebacker Obi Ezeh will get some looks and Troy Woolfolk had some promise before the season ending injury.

Prediction to be taken with a grain of salt (actually make that a whole truckload of salt)

ILL 47, Mich 19  (Banks’ 2010 record 13-3)

Michigan leads the series by a 66-23-2 advantage overall and holds a
31-11-1 edge in Ann Arbor. However, in the last two meetings, Illinois
has outscored Michigan 83-33 and piled on 1,001 total yards. The
Illini’s 45 points in the 2008 victory over Michigan are the most
Illinois has scored against the Wolverines in school history and also
are the most points against Michigan in the “Big House” by any team
since 1991, when Florida State scored 51.

It remains the most points scored by a Big Ten opponent at Michigan
Stadium since Ohio State won 50-20 in 1961. Juice Williams set the
Michigan Stadium record for total offense with 431 yards (310 passing,
121 rushing) that day.

Very recent “past is prologue.”

Paul M. Banks is CEO of The Sports Bank.net , a Midwest webzine. He’s also a regular contributor to the Tribune’s Chicago Now network, Walter Football.com, Yardbarker Network, and Fox Sports.com

You can follow him on Twitter @thesportsbank

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