Illinois (2-4) at (25) Michigan (3-2)
Saturday, October 13, 3:30 p.m. (et)
The Sports Network
By Mike Castiglione, Associate College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: The 25th-ranked Michigan Wolverines play host to the Illinois Fighting Illini in a Big Ten Conference clash at Michigan Stadium.
Michigan climbed back into the top-25 following last week's 44-13 rout at Purdue. The Wolverines' two losses on the year have come against top-ranked Alabama and No. 7 Notre Dame. Meanwhile, their two home victories so far have come against Air Force and Massachusetts by a combined margin of 94-38.
As for the Fighting Illini, they enter the weekend reeling from losses in four of their last five contests. They hung tough on the road against Wisconsin last weekend, but ultimately fell, 31-14. Illinois will try for its second win at The Big House in its last three tries.
Michigan leads the all-time series, 68-23-2, and has won eight of the last 10 meetings.
Quarterback Denard Robinson had a rough outing against Notre Dame a few weeks ago, tossing four first-half interceptions en route to a 13-6 road loss. However, Robinson regrouped during the team's bye week and came back with a much stronger effort at Purdue this past Saturday, rushing for 235 yards and throwing for another 105 yards and a score. In doing so, he passed Indiana's Antwaan Randle El to set the Big Ten career quarterback rushing record with 3,905 yards. Robinson, currently the nation's fourth-leading rusher, now has five career 200-yard rushing games to his credit.
Still, while the Wolverines can always count on their quarterback to rack up some yardage on the ground, tailback Fitzgerald Toussaint has struggled, averaging just 42.2 yards per came and only 3.2 yards per carry. Toussaint found the end zone twice last week but finished with a mere 19 yards on 17 totes.
The Michigan defense allowed just 210 total yards at Purdue. In addition, the Wolverines yielded only 13 points for the third consecutive game. After allowing 41 and 25 points in their first two games, the Wolverines are starting to come into their own on defense. They held Purdue to 1-of-11 on third down and 1-of-3 on fourth down last week, while defensive backs Thomas Gordon and Raymon Taylor each notched an interception for the second consecutive game. Still, head coach Brady Hoke identified a few areas where he would like to see more improvement.
"I don't think we're getting enough pressure on the quarterback," Hoke said during his weekly press conference. "I think that helps those guys in the back end. And then at the same time, I think there were times when we need to do a better job tightening zone blitz coverages or man coverages, because now you force that quarterback to be a little more accurate. So I think we keep searching as coaches for different ways to manufacture some pressure, and at the same time have good coverage with it."
Hoke also said the focus for his defense will be on stopping Illinois dual- threat quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase. Slowed by injuries in the first five games, Scheelhaase looked like his normal self against Wisconsin, rushing for a team-high 84 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries, while also throwing for 178 yards and a score.
"Scheelhaase is a guy that can be very dangerous," Hoke said. "He's very effective running the football. He's healthy. I don't think he was healthy earlier in the year. They played well deep into that game up in Wisconsin."
When Scheelhaase drops back to pass, he'll continue to look in the direction of junior Ryan Lankford, the team's primary big-play threat. Lankford leads the team with 25 receptions for 362 yards and five TDs (second-most in the Big Ten), and he has logged six plays of 20 yards or more.
Defensively, Illinois has shown a tendency to let up yards in bunches but to tighten up in key situations. One area that the Illini have really excelled is on third downs, as they have held opponents to a league-best 27.4-percent success rate. They have also help opponents scoreless seven times in 24 trips inside the red zone to rank among the nation's top teams in red-zone defense (70.8 percent).
Linebackers Jonathan Brown and true freshman Mason Monheim headline the unit. A year after leading the team in tackles and pacing the Big Ten in tackles for loss, Brown has racked up 38 tackles, a team-high 6.5 TFLs (fifth-most in the Big Ten), and 1.5 sacks in 2012. Monheim has 34 tackles this season, which leads all Big Ten freshmen and ranks third on the team. He has also forced a pair of fumbles to go along with one sack and an interception.
Michigan has been tough at home, and the Wolverines really seemed to take advantage of their bye week with a renewed focus. Provided they don't allow many big plays from Scheelhaase, the Wolverines should be able to win this one rather handily.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Michigan 41, Illinois 20
10/10 10:35:15 ET