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Michigan v. Illinois Preview

October 12, 2012

 

October 13th, 2012 – 3:30pm

Ann Arbor, MI

Song of the week:
“We didn’t start the fire,

It was always burning since the world’s been turning..

We didn’t start the fire,

No we didn’t light it, but we’re trying to fight it..”

– Billy Joel, song “We Didn’t Start The Fire”

Names To Know

1. Nate Scheelhaase (QB #2) – With WR AJ Jenkins off to the NFL, Scheelhaase is the centerpiece of the Illinois offense. He’s had his issues this year though, missing 2 games and only throwing 3 TDs to 5 INTs. His last game in The Big House was the 67-65 3-OT game that ended all doubts about Greg Robinson being a serviceable defensive coordinator. Scheelhaase totaled over 300 yards and accounted for 4 TDs in that game.

2. Akeem Spence (DT #94) – The more notable player on the defensive line is probably DE Michael Buchanan, but his production will be determined by the play of Spence. Illinois has been vulnerable in the middle of their DL all year, so watch early to see if Spence is getting pushed around because it could mean some big runs up the middle.

3. Jonathan Brown (LB #45) – Brown is probably the best playmaker on the Illinois defense this season. He was 2nd Team All B1G last year and had 19.5 tackles for loss, which was 6th best in the nation. He’ll need to be very active this week against Michigan, trying to tackle Denard in space and cover TE Devin Funchess. He has played pretty well so far this year, even though he hasn’t gotten much help from his teammates.

Offensive Strength

When a team is 2-4 and ranks 103rd in the nation in scoring offense, there isn’t much to consider a strength. Nate Scheelhaase is the only real thing this offense has going for it, and even he hasn’t been very good. He has the athleticism to keep plays going with his feet and the gunslinger mentality to try to make plays. Backup QB Reilly O’Toole actually has better numbers (78% completion, 514 yards, 6 TDs), but those stats are misleading since almost all of that came in a win over Charleston Southern when Scheelhaase did not play.

Offensive Weakness

In 2011, wide receiver AJ Jenkins had 90 catches for 1200+ yards and 8 touchdowns. The next best receiver had 26 catches for 226 yards and 1 touchdown. In 2012 they have not found a replacement for Jenkins, who now plays for the San Francisco 49ers, and it is killing the Illini offense. When opposing defenses don’t have a legit playmaker to worry about, it makes the gameplan pretty easy.

Defensive Strength

The only strength I can come up with here is that the defense is better than UMass… maybe.

Defensive Weakness

When you take out the two wins (Western Michigan and Charleston Southern), this defense has given up 45 (Arizona), 35 (Penn State), 31 (Wisconsin), and an embarrassing 52 points to Louisiana Tech. The Louisiana Tech game was an abomination with Illinois giving up over 400 yards of offense and 52 points at home. Some would point out the 6 turnovers for Illinois, but with LaTech giving 3 back you still can’t spin a 28 point loss at home. This defense is just plain bad, and with starting corner Terry Hawthorne likely out (concussion) it could be even worse.

My Game Expectations

To put it bluntly, Illinois is a five-alarm dumpster fire this year. The stress of the job finally caught up with first year head coach Tim Beckman last week when he got in trouble after being caught on tape chewing tobacco during the game against Wisconsin. He apologized after saying it was a bad habit due to stress. I think he should’ve just come out and said “Do you see the team I’m dealing with here? I didn’t start this fire, Ron Zook did, and it’s going to take me a few years to contain it and figure out what is salvageable.”

We should see the exact defensive gameplan that played out very well last week at Purdue. Illinois does not have any true playmakers, so Michigan can force everyone in front of them and wait for Illinois to make mistakes to kill their drives. I do not think we’ll see anything new a week before the big game against Sparty.

On offense, we may actually see more runs up the middle this week. Illinois is soft on the interior of the DL, so Michigan might try to exploit that with some power runs up the gut. Maybe we see Thomas Rawls get some more carries this week, or maybe Fitz Toussaint will stop dancing if the holes are already there when he gets the ball. Regardless of that, the Michigan offense should have it’s way with Illinois.

Against BCS teams this year, Illinois is averaging under 14 points per game while giving up 37 per game. As long as Michigan doesn’t get lazy while looking ahead to the big Michigan State matchup, this should be a comfortable win on Homecoming weekend.

Prediction

Michigan wins 31-13

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