#24 Michigan Wolverines v. Illinois Fighting Illini: Brutally Honest Game Preview


In my lifetime, Illinois has beaten Michigan at home just twice- in 1983 and 2009. For some reason, the Illini don’t have a home field advantage versus the Wolverines or the Ohio State Buckeyes. Part of it is my alma mater has issues selling tickets to college football games.

If you can’t sell out a game versus Ohio St, when you’re undefeated and nationally ranked in the top 15, then when can you sell out? Michigan is starting to stumble a bit after a fast start, and they’re getting Illinois at the right time.

Or are they? The Illini had a bye week to prepare for this, and have to be feeling a sense of urgency. They started out 6-0 and now find themselves projected to the Pizza Bowl in Detroit. Uhm yeah, time to start winning some more games.

Illinois Fighting Illini Analysis:

As the Illini offense has really struggled the past few games, the defense is climbing the national rankings. The Illini are allowing 280.1 yards per game to rank sixth nationally in total defense, and also rank in the top-15 nationally in passing defense (177.2, eighth), scoring defense (17.2 ppg, 13th) and rushing defense (102.9 ypg, 15th). They’re second in the league in both run and total defense. However, the offense has some issues, holding onto the ball: -3 in turnover margin.

Illinois continues to lead the Big Ten and rank in the top-10 nationally in sacks and tackles for loss. The Illini rank third in the NCAA in sacks (3.4 per game) and sixth in TFLs (8.0 per game). All-America candidate and Rotary Lombardi Award semifinalist Whitney Mercilus continues to lead the nation in sacks (11.5), sacks per game (1.28) and forced fumbles (6). He’s probably the team MVP.

All-America and Biletnikoff Award candidate A.J. Jenkins leads the Big Ten and ranks in the top-10 nationally in both receiving yards per game (114.4) andreceptions per game (7.6). He recently became the seventh Illini to surpass 1,000 receiving yards in a season with 1,030 on 68 catches.

 LB Jonathan Brown has been a monster the last three games, totaling 39 tackles, 5.5 TFLs, 2.5 sacks, two PBUs, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. Of course, you still know him best as the guy who was caught on television kneeing Northwestern OL Patrick Ward in the mcbucknuts when the ref wasn’t looking. He was suspended one game for his horrific actions.

#24 Michigan Wolverines (7-2, 3-2) Synopsis:

QB Denard Robinson is fun to watch. But he’s not a “dual threat quarterback.” That term is getting thrown around by the media way too liberally these days. Literally, it means a signal caller that can both pass and run effectively. But the way it’s applied, it really means any QB who’s a great runner.

Technically, both Denard and Nebraska’s Taylor Martinez are “single threat” QBs because both are electric runners, but neither can actually pass the ball very well.

Denard has made some big plays on some deep routes, especially versus Northwestern and Notre Dame, but they were essentially just jump balls where his very big, very tall, very athletic receivers made some plays for him. Almost all his deep throws are just hail marys and his receivers go up and get it. He has no accuracy on the long ball.

And how many times have we seen an under 50% completion percentage in his box score? How can we call him an elite player when he’s a quarterback that can’t really throw? How can he be considered a Big Ten MVP  when he doesn’t even complete half his passes?

Fitzgerald Toussaint is developing into a legitimate starting tailback now.

On defense, it appears that too many of their tackles are made by safeties. Sure Jordan Kovacs is a great player who swarms to the ball, but it also says that a lot of busted plays are occurring against them.

Prediction to be taken with an entire truckload of salt, not a grain of salt: UM 21, UI 17 (2010-11 prediction record 33-18)

Between Scheelhaase and Denard this should be another explosive shootout- or not, as both defenses are much improved over last year. Both teams have HORRIFIC special teams. The Illini are dead last in the league in both kickoff coverage and kick return. And their sad and pathetic 1.7 per punt return tells you everything you need to know about that unit. Simply put the score of the last Illini game was this: Illinois 7, Penn State 3, Illini Special teams -9.

Then we have the Michigan kicking game, which they lack confidence in to the point that they’ve had the fewest attempts in the league by a large margin. Simply put- this comes to which special teams unit doesn’t screw up worse.

Paul M. Banks is CEO of The Sports Bank.net, a Google News site generating millions of unique visitors. He’s also a regular contributor to Chicago Now, Walter Football, Yardbarker, and Fox Sports.

A Fulbright scholar and MBA, Banks has appeared on live radio all over the world; he’s also a member of the FWAA, USBWA and SPJ. The President of the United States follows him on Twitter (@Paul_M_BanksTSB) You should too.

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