This upcoming Saturday the Michigan Wolverines will welcome the Fighting Illini of Illinois to The Big House.
The 2-4 (0-2 Big Ten) Fighting Illini are coming to Ann Arbor hungry and ready to prove themselves after their 31-14 loss to Wisconsin on the road last week. Losing the first two conference games of the year is bound to put a team’s back against the wall, so I expect Illinois to come to the field with a chip on their shoulder and something to prove. Whether they can actually do anything to prevent another loss in conference remains to be seen.
Illinois head coach Tim Beckman comes straight out the Buckeye state like a lot of other coaches. He was hired by Illinois this past off-season after coaching the Toledo Rockets from ’09-’11 and earned a 17-7 record in MAC play over his three years with the program.
Beckman runs a spread attack which is nothing new for the orange n blue. Junior quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase is still the captain of the offense, which should allow the Illini the opportunity of a competitive game. Yet so far in 2012, it’s been a tough go.
The Illinois offense is a lowly 104th in the nation for points scored averaging just a bit over 21 a game. And their defense is not much better surrendering 28 points a game to their opponents. Although the Illini lost linebacker Whitney Mercilus to the NFL the defense was supposed to be strong by returning 7 defensive starters, most notably DT senior Michael Buchanan. The Illini had the third ranked pass defense in the nation last season. Not so much this year.
Michigan on the other hand comes off an impressive win in West Lafayette and owns the nations 38th ranked defense for points allowed at 21 per game. Denard Robinson returned to his true form of being a run first pass second quarterback and as a result accounted for 235 of the Wolverines 304 total yards rushing.
Even though the Wolverines are averaging only 188 passing yards a game this year, Denard Robinson should have many opportunities to connect with his receivers as long as he stays vigilant and remembers not to throw off his back foot. Robinson has the ability to complete passes of all types, he just needs to focus on the entire process of the pass and things will be fine.
With Wolverine confidence restored after the big win against Purdue, now might just be the week we see Denard and company play their best football of the year.
I expect Michigan to capitalize early and often in the spread pass attack. Although the Illini were poised to be a decent team on paper before the season started, they always seem to find ways to beat themselves. As long as Michigan doesn’t turn the ball over more than, oh twice, I see the Wolverines pulling out a squeaker this Saturday. It should be close, but in the end Michigan should move to 2-0 in the Big Ten and then the conference fun really will begin next week when MSU comes to town.
Prediction: Michigan-31, Illinois-24
You can follow John Kayser on Twitter at MGoYambo.