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Bad Memories…..

October 12, 2012

 

In the 93 times that Michigan and Illinois have played, Michigan has a 68-23-2 record against the Illini, including a record of 32-11-2 in Ann Arbor.  With that kind of record advantage, one would think Illinois would be just a blip on the radar of the Big Ten season.  But for some reason, the Fighting Illini hold a special place in my heart for painful Michigan memories.  

It probably started in 1993 when Ricky Powers fumbled with 1:20 left while running out the clock and Illinois QB Jimmy Johnson- the 1.0 version of Troy Smith, Donovan McNabb, Juice Williams (insert other mobile QBs who have killed us here) – picked us a part on the final drive to score a touchdown.  I was listening on the radio while riding to Detroit to go to a Bar Mitzvah and I remember it clear as day.  Incidentally, that Illinois team would finish 5-6, while Michigan would win the Rose Bowl.  Just an awful, awful loss. 

Flash forward six years and Michigan was coming off of a 34-31 loss to MSU in East Lansing, but was still ranked #9, to face a 3-3 Illinois team that had just lost by 30 points to Minnesota(!).   Michigan built a comfortable 27-7 lead before 28 unanswered Illini points gave them a 35-27 lead.  Michigan picked up a safety and made a valiant effort at the end, including a nearly miraculous catch by David Terrell in the end zone, but ultimately loss.   Michigan ended up going to the Orange Bowl and beating Alabama, but in the 2nd year of the BCS, a Michigan team with 1 loss would’ve had a decent chance of ending up in the BCS Championship game.  Another come from ahead loss by Michigan.  

Recent memories of Illinois are painful too.  In 2009, 5-4 Michigan headed to Champaign to take on a reeling 2-6 Illinois team that was rumored to have “quit” on the coach and were ripe to be rolled. Michigan needed only 1 more win to be bowl eligible in Rich Rodriguez’s second year.  Michigan built a 13-7 halftime lead and on the 3rd play of the 3rd quarter Tate Forcier hit Roy Roundtree for a 76 yard gain, down to the Illinois 1 yard line.  A Michigan touchdown would solidify a two score lead and probably would’ve left the Illlini for dead.  Michigan was stopped on 4th down from the 1 yard line and Illinois drove the ball 99 yards and never looked back en route to a 38-13 shellacking of Michigan.  Michigan wouldn’t win again in 2009 and finished the season 5-7.  

Finally, in 2010, Michigan pulled off a victory in name only, as everyone who watched that abomination of a game can agree we all lost for having sat through that.  Though Michigan won 67-65, it was clearly the beginning of the end for Rich Rodriguez as any team giving up 45 points in regulation and 65 points overall probably wasn’t going to be the long-term solution in Ann Arbor.  

So as bad as Illinois may appear to be – and they are bad this year – I’m still cautious.  That being said, you can’t ignore a 35-7 home loss to Penn State or worse, a 52-24 home loss to Louisiana Tech (really?).   The only way the Illini should have a chance in this game is if the weather plays a role and makes Michigan both one-dimensional on offense and turnover prone.  

RECIPE FOR A WIN

  1. Control the Line of Scrimmage – Illinois lacks a playmaker at running back and is weak in the middle of the defensive line.  That means if the Michigan defensive line steps up, Illinois will be forced to throw with Nathan Scheelhaase, not their preference.  It also means that the opportunity is there for Michigan to get on track with a running game outside of Denard.  
  2. Keep Everything in Front – Illinois is the perfect opponent for a Greg Mattison Michigan Defense.  Without any big playmakers at the skill positions, Illinois will have to put together drives in order to score.  Unfortunately they aren’t talented enough to sustain that play after play.  If Michigan tackles well and keeps the Illini from a big play, 17 points may be all we need to win this game. 
  3. Rain, Rain Go Away – With a pretty strong chance of rain in the forecast, it could make for a sloppy game.  Frankly, that’s the only way Illinois wins tomorrow.  Michigan has much more talent is a far better coached team than the Illini.  But a slippery ball and a wet field will slow Michigan down and create the opportunity for turnovers.  If the weather is really bad, you could see a 10-6 score with a fluke play deciding the outcome.  

PREDICTION

In 4 of the last 5 games, the Illinois defense has given up 31, 35, 52, and 45 points.  The other game they pitched a shutout against College of Charleston.  Meanwhile, the Michigan offense appeared to hit its stride last week after the disaster in South Bend, and the defense hasn’t let up more than 13 points since the 2nd game of the season.  I think Illinois is smarter than Purdue, and sells out to stop our best player, Denard Robinson, instead of our talented, yet in a slump, running back.  Nobody will completely shut down Denard, and I think Toussaint finally gets on track at the same time and gets his first 100 yard game of the year. 

Michigan 30

Illinois 10

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