Michigan vs. Illinois: Brutally Honest Game Preview



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.

Illini: 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 ith 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


  1. How is Michigan favored in this game, that’s what I’m still trying to figure out?

  2. what an embarassment today! I guess that’s your answer, why was Michigan favored. Oh well, at least they beat them in Champaign in my lifetime. I was beginning to wonder if that would ever happen again

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