photo AnnArborGIFHeader_zps02670880.gif

Posts Tagged ‘Week 10’

5-Spot Challenge: Week 10

Tuesday, November 6th, 2012



After our first two-time winner of the season last week, we are back on track with first time winners. This time, kfarmer16 takes home the $20 gift card to The M Den with a dominating performance. His point differential of 72.3 was the best of the season by any contestant. He was just three away from Michigan’s leading individual rusher, and 11 away from Michigan’s total yards. Previous winner HTTV133 was second with a differential of 113.8, while two-time winner crp12qb finished 10th out of 11.

Tooty_pops was the only person to correctly predict that Michigan wouldn’t make a field goal. Kfarmer16 was the next closest on that question with 20. New contestant Shoelace4Heisman was only four away from Michigan’s total yards and 31 away from the combined passing yards, while JustJeepGear.com was the closest to the combined passing yards, just 19 away. JustJeepGear.com also nearly became our first correct score predictor of the season, but the 35-12 prediction was just a point away.

The 11 contestants this week picked Michigan to win by an average score of 37-11, so you weren’t very far off. Even with Gardner playing instead of Denard, it sounds like Michigan fans had a pretty good grasp of how the game would turn out.

This week, Michigan returns home to face Northwestern. The Wildcats feature a solid run game and rush defense, but not much of a pass defense. It will be interesting to see whether Denard is fully healthy for this one. Good luck!

Michigan 35 – Minnesota 13: Gardner helps Michigan retain Jug

Sunday, November 4th, 2012


Needing a win to stay in the Big Ten title hunt, Michigan was dealt a blow when Denard Robinson was ruled out for the game. But no one told Devin Gardner that was a bad thing. After a slow start, the junior quarterback-turned-receiver-turned-quarterback put on a display that will ease concerns about next season’s quarterback situation.

Michigan 35 – Minnesota 13
Final Stats
35 Final Score 13
6-3, 4-1 Record 5-4 (1-4)
389 Total Yards 275
155 Net Rushing Yards 128
234 Net Passing Yards 147
18 First Downs 21
1 Turnovers 1
7-69 Penalties – Yards 9-68
3-88 Punts – Yards 3-127
29:08 Time of Possession 30:52
7-of-12 Third Down Conversions 4-of-14
1-of-2 Fourth Down Conversions 2-of-4
1-4 Sacks By – Yards 3-23
0-for-0 Field Goals 2-for-3
5-for-5 PATs 1-for-1
3-for-3 Red Zone Scores – Chances 3-for-4

Gardner completed 12-of-18 passes for 234 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception, leading Michigan to a 35-13 win over Minnesota. It didn’t start out positively, however, as Michigan gained just nine yards on eight plays in the first quarter.

The Gophers got the scoring started with a 10-yard touchdown pass from freshman quarterback Philip Nelson to tight end John Rabe. Michigan responded with a 12-play, 91-yard scoring drive that took seven minutes off the clock. The touchdown was a 45-yard pass from Gardner to Drew Dileo that seemed to be straight out of the playbook from a backyard football game. Gardner dropped back, stepped up, rolled to his right, then back all the way across the field to his left, and heaved it up to a wide open Dileo in the end zone.

After a Minnesota three-and-out, Gardner put together another long drive, marching 90 yards on 13 plays, capping it off with a two-yard Thomas Rawls touchdown run. It was the first time in Michigan history that the team scored touchdowns on consecutive drives of 90 yards or more, and just the third time it has ever been done in the same game.

Minnesota missed a 55-yard field goal as time expired in the first half and Michigan took a 14-7 lead into the locker room.

A Minnesota sack forced Michigan to punt away its first possession of the second half and the Gophers mounted a 10-play drive into the Michigan red zone. On fourth-and-16 from the 19-yard line, head coach Jerry Kill elected to call a fake field goal instead of kicking a 36-yarder. It failed miserably, gaining only five yards, and Michigan capitalized with an 86-yard scoring drive. Jeremy Gallon did the heavy lifting on this drive, catching a 47-yard pass and a 10-yard touchdown grab to give Michigan a 21-7 lead.

Michigan retains the Little Brown Jug for the fifth straight year (photo by Tom Olmscheid, AP)

Minnesota tried to fight back, driving to the Michigan three-yard line, but settled for a field goal to pull within 11. Michigan scored touchdowns on its next two possessions – a two-yard run by Gardner and a 41-yard run by Fitz Toussaint – to put the game away.

Toussaint led the Wolverines in rushing with 74 yards on 13 carries, but 41 of those came on that one play. Rawls had 43 yards on 16 carries for a meager 2.7 yards per. Without Gardner in the receiving corps, the receiving was well rounded. Gallon led the way with four catches for 72 yards, while Dileo had 69 and Roy Roundtree had 64.

For Minnesota, Nelson took a lot of chances downfield with little success. The best success he had was drawing a few pass interference calls against Michigan’s defensive backs late in the game. He completed 13-of-29 passes for 142 yards and a touchdown. It will likely be good enough to keep Michigan atop the national rankings in pass defense. Donnell Kirkwood rushed 16 times for just 61 yards and Michigan held the Gophers to 3.4 yards per carry.

It was a game that Michigan was supposed to win, even without Denard, and the Wolverines did just that. The talk coming out of the game will likely center around Gardner’s performance and question whether he should start the rest of the season. Any talk of that kind should stop right there. I’ll get to it more later this week and so will Chris in his weekly Monday Morning Quarterback segment, so stay tuned. But for now, enjoy the win and look forward to returning to the Big House against Northwestern next Saturday.

M&GB Pick’em: Minnesota staff predictions

Friday, November 2nd, 2012


Last week, all predictions went out the window when Denard left the game with a nerve injury to his elbow. Russell Bellomy couldn’t get anything going on offense and Michigan was held without a touchdown for the second straight week. Denard is back this week and heaven forbid he get hurt again, we should have a pretty good idea of how this game will play out.

M&GB PREDICTION SUMMARY

____________________________

Justin: Michigan 37 – Minnesota 10

Chris: Michigan 31 - Minnesota 14

Josh: Michigan N/A – Minnesota N/A

Sam: Michigan 31 – Minnesota 13

Katie: Michigan 38 – Minnesota 13

Matt: Michigan 38 – Minnesota 17

___________________________

Average: Michigan 35 – Minnesota 13

Justin (1): Michigan makes its first visit to TCF Bank Stadium for a noon (11am local time) kickoff against Minnesota. The time is important because the only chance the Gophers have of pulling this one out is if Michigan sleeps through its alarm because it’s so used to playing 3:30 (or later) games. As long as the Wolverines lay off the waffles and fake eggs from the hotel breakfast bar and come ready to play, they’ll get back on track for what is shaping up to be an epic clash with Ohio State at season’s end. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. One game at a time.

Michigan will be, as the Black Eyed Peas sing, runnin’ runnin’ and runnin’ runnin’. Fitz Toussaint and Thomas Rawls will see lots of carries until Minnesota proves it can stop them – which the Gophers haven’t been able to do against anyone this season. Michigan will build a big lead and let Denard give way to Bellomy in a good scenario this time. For more analysis, check out this morning’s game preview, Friend vs. Foe, and Monday’s First Look.

[Edit: I should also add that the only other thing that could prevent a Michigan win is another significant injury to Denard. If that happens, all bets are off].

Michigan 37 – Minnesota 10

Chris (2): With four games left in the regular season, the Wolverines enter this game at Minnesota knowing that they need to win out and get help with a Nebraska loss in order to make it to the Big Ten Championship. However, I think that it’s important that the team not be thinking about it this way. It’s one game at a time. No scoreboard watching. Everyone does their job. Give your all EVERY play. I think if they do that, they can win these last four games and end up in Indianapolis on Dec 1.

First thing’s first though. Historically, Michigan has dominated the Golden Gophers in Minneapolis. They have won 14 straight trips there, winning by an average score of 40-13. Last time at Minnesota was back in 2008 (29-6 win). Minnesota enters the game at 5-3 (1-3 Big Ten) and are looking to become bowl eligible for the first time since 2009.

Donnell Kirkwood averages 4.4 yards per carry (photo by Jesse Johnson, AP)

Overall, this is a decent Minnesota squad that can sneak up on teams if they take them too lightly. Minnesota’s biggest weakness is their defense, especially when trying to stop the rush. In their three losses this season, they gave up big days on the ground to opposing running backs to the tune of 242 yards per game. Wisconsin’s running backs put up 337 by themselves. So far, this has been a season when Michigan has been unable to run the ball effectively with someone other than Denard Robinson. If there’s any hope for this running game, it will need to show on Saturday because it will provide the Wolverines with the best chance to win.

On offense, Minnesota has switched to true freshmen Philip Nelson at quarterback. Dynamic quarterback MarQueis Gray has been hampered by injuries this season, which prompted the switch. Just because Nelson is young and inexpereinced, the Wolverines can’t look past his skills. He earned Mr. Football honors in the state of Minnesota and they doesn’t hesitate to chuck the ball around when he’s under center. This bodes well for a Michigan pass defense which ranks as one of the best in the nation. Defensively, I don’t see the the Wolverines having much trouble. Minnesota isn’t going to control the line of scrimmage with three sophomores starting on the offensive line.

I like Michigan to win this game, but I don’t think it’s going to be by a large point differential.

Michigan 31 – Minnesota 14

Matt (2): We haven’t really taken Minnesota seriously. Overall, our record in the Battle for the Little Brown Jug, is 67-22-3. And Minnesota has only beaten us three times since 1968. However, looking past them is a big mistake.

Although the Golden Gophers seem to pale in comparison with the Wolverines, only being ranked higher than Michigan in passing by a small margin, and being ranked lower than Michigan in rushing yards, points for, and points against, the game is still being played in Minneapolis, and this is a rivalry game. You know what they say about rivalry games. Throw the records out the window.

However, is this really a rivalry? Is this anything like Michigan vs Notre Dame, Michigan State or Ohio State? The answer is simple, no. But we still want to hold onto that Little Brown Jug, and we still want to win the Legends Division, which could happen, but we need Nebraska to lose too!

Minnesota is ranked higher than Michigan in passing, although if you compare QBs, Denard has thrown over 500 yards more and three more touchdowns (that’s not counting the six Denard has scrambled in). Minnesota’s rushing game isn’t that great either, averaging 162 yards a game while Michigan averages 206.

And as far as defense goes, Michigan allows 17 points a game. Minnesota allows 23.

The biggest factor to this game, is going to be Denard Robinson. Is he going to be able to play? He left the Nebraska game with an injured nerve in his elbow. From there we got to see Russell Bellomy come in, and have a horrible game. I’m not blaming the kid. He’s new to all this. He isn’t supposed to be the starting QB. He’s supposed to watch as Denard tears defenses apart. So when Denard went down, Bellomy had that deer in the headlights look, and tried. I heard many people asking (and begging) Brady Hoke to put Devin Gardner in as QB instead. He did not.

Jerry Kill is trying to get the Gophers bowl eligible for the first time since 2009 (photo by Jesse Johnson, AP)

News at Michigan practice his week, is that Devin did however take snaps as QB, just in case Robinson doesn’t end up playing this Saturday. Maybe Hoke heard the people.

I think Denard will play this Saturday. Will he injure the elbow again? Not sure. I don’t think he’ll play all game. I think Hoke will play him, but pull him every now and again to let Devin, and maybe even Russell get some snaps (that is if the game is in hand). We really need to rely on Fitzgerald Toussaint this Saturday. Al Borges needs to let Fitz run straight at the Golden Gophers defense, and ram the ball down their throats.

I have not done the best job at guessing the score this season, but here we go…

I don’t see this one being that close. Michigan is going to take the lead, and never give it back. The Little Brown Jug will stay in Ann Arbor for another season. Denard scores a couple TDs, and so does Devin Gardner (as QB, NOT WR).

Michigan 38 – Minnesota 17

Sam (1): Michigan wins. End of story.

Michigan 31 – Minnesota 13

Katie: Last week didn’t turn out nearly as well as was hoped for, but there is a consolation, this week we play Minnesota and the poor Golden Gophers are at the bottom of the Legends Division. But hey, it could be worse, the Leaders has two teams without a Big Ten win, and Minnesota has notched a W against the Boilermakers to make them 1-3 in conference play. Michigan on the other hand is living in disappointing times. Granted, the preseason polls were overestimated, the Wolverines have still lost three games so far this season, and while that’s not quite a debacle it will be if we go 5-3 in Big Ten play. Northwestern I’m sure would love nothing more than an upset at the Big House after what will likely be a safeguarding of the Brown Jug. Not to mention Ohio State, who will welcome Michigan into the ‘Shoe for the first time since coach Urban Meyer was instated, and with a definite chip on their shoulder due to their inability to play in the conference championship or a bowl game.

I’m not trying to overlook Minnesota. Well, I suppose that’s not entirely true. I do know however, that one has to make the catch before running with it, and that the play can’t go down field until the ball is secured. Really though, did last years score against Minnesota have to look like a MAC team rollover. 58-0?

So while that sort of bullying hasn’t happened to the Gophers this year, they also have yet to play a ranked team. Though it is true that they played the Wildcats, who are now second in the Legends, within a touchdown. Now I am going to make the assumption that if we can’t beat Minnesota that the season is, for all intents and purposes, over. But on a positive note I’m not envisioning much of a problem. That is unless the offense collapses without Denard, and Devin Gardner, who could see a return at quarterback, looks worse than Bellomy. Not that the red-shirt freshman would look quite as bad as he did against Nebraska. I think that with more than a few minutes notice, and an away crowd that hasn’t been getting pumped for a night game for hours in advance, he should be able to pass more efficiently. With that being said I still would not hesitate to say that Gardner was our starting QB if number 16 wasn’t ready.

As for the stats, Minnesota’s aren’t too bad on either side of things, but they don’t look as good on paper as Michigan does, and Michigan has been fumbling around this season. The Wolverines best bet is on a strong defense that gives its offense as many opportunities to score as possible. Without Denard’s fleetness of foot Michigan could need time for some extended drives. Look for a Wolverines victory, but without last year’s margin.

Michigan 38 – Minnesota 13

Friend vs. Foe: Minnesota edition

Friday, November 2nd, 2012


For this week’s edition of Friend vs. Foe, we welcome Tom from the Minnesota SB Nation blog The Daily Gopher.  He will provide his perspective on how or why Minnesota can beat Michigan on Saturday. Remember, this is not an actual game prediction. It is an attempt to describe how or why each team can win from each side of the matchup.

The case for Minnesota
by Tom

If the question is, how or why can the Gophers win on Saturday, I think there are only a few perfect storm scenarios. I’ll give you three reasons why it is possible as long as you do not construe these as any sort of a prediction that such things will come to fruition.

First and foremost, Denard Robinson cannot be Denard Robinson. Or he cannot be playing at all. It is possible that the Gophers can compete or even win with a healthy Robinson, but in that scenario it would likely mean Michigan is beating Michigan with Minnesota taking advantage of critical mistakes.

Secondly I think it is really important to note the time of kickoff. Michigan has kicked off every game this year either in the evening for a nationally televised game or in the late afternoon. This will be their first 11:00 CST kickoff. The schedule of getting up a bit earlier, playing over lunchtime and doing this on the road may lead to a sluggish start for the Wolverines.

And lastly I can easily see Michigan looking past the Gophers. This isn’t really a trap game scenario with Northwestern on the schedule for next week, but I think Michigan thinks they can beat the Gophers in their sleep. And who can blame them? Last year’s 58-0 game may not have even been that close. The Gophers haven’t forgotten that score and I’m sure Michigan hasn’t either. I have been reading on a few different Michigan sites how the Gophers are better but the numbers really are deceiving and they really aren’t “that good.”

Nobody wants to have a let-down game and coaching staffs do everything in their power to avoid it, but it is human nature. After two consecutive weeks of getting yourself ready to play your best against Michigan State and Nebraska, it is only natural to take it a bit easy this week when you are facing what you believe to be an inferior opponent. The problem with this, for Michigan, is that the Gophers really are a better team and while they are not at the same level as Michigan the gap is closer.

Notice that none of my possible scenarios for a Gopher win involved player match-ups or areas that the Gophers can exploit. The Gopher defense is much better at defending the pass and with Robinson’s elbow Michigan might be more one-dimensional than they usually are. But even when you know what is coming you still have to defend it. Offensively the Gophers can move the ball when they don’t make mistakes. On the field the margin for error is incredibly thin for the Gophers. If they are to pull out a win and bring home the Jug I think Michigan will have to do what they can to increase that margin for Minnesota.

I’m not arguing that this game is a pick’em or that the Gophers are really in a great place to pull off an upset here. Michigan is the more talented football team, but my hope is that they believe that with all their heart.

The case for Michigan
by Justin

Following the disappointing loss to Nebraska last weekend, Michigan now finds itself needing help to win the Big Ten Legends division. Essentially, the Wolverines have to win all four of the remaining games and hope Nebraska loses one of its remaining games and it all starts with Minnesota on Saturday. If there’s one opponent you’d love to play coming off a loss and needing to get things going again for the stretch run it’s the Gophers.

As I showed in Monday’s First Look, the two teams’ offenses look fairly similar on paper. Michigan averages about three more points per game and is the better rushing team, but Minnesota is the better passing team. In terms of total offense, they’re about equal. But a couple of stats show the discrepancy between the two. Michigan converts 47 percent of its third downs, good for 23rd nationally, while Minnesota converts just 39 percent, which is 72nd nationally. Inside the red zone, Michigan has scored on 89 percent of its trips, while Minnesota just 77 percent. And Michigan has faced three of the toughest defenses in the country while Minnesota feasted on nobodies in the non-conference schedule.

Minnesota’s defense is solid against the pass (7th nationally) but very vulnerable to the run, giving up 178 yards per game which is 84th nationally. Three of the last four opponents have had 100-yard rushers against the Gophers, including Wisconsin which had two. Expect Michigan to continue that trend. Much like the Wolverines did against Purdue and Illinois, Denard and Fitz Toussaint will run often, and we may even see some more of Thomas Rawls.

Don’t expect Denard to pass much because he likely won’t need to, but do expect him to be a little more cautious with running out of bounds instead of taking a hit. As we saw last week, the biggest thing that could derail the rest of the season is Denard getting hurt for an extended period of time. He’ll have his share of big runs, but will likely defer to the running backs more than usual in an effort to avoid getting banged up in a game that shouldn’t be too difficult.

Minnesota’s only hope to pull out a win is for Michigan to come out lethargic following a demoralizing loss and in its first noon game (11am local time) of the season. But don’t expect that to happen.

On the other side of the ball, we don’t know a whole lot about freshman quarterback Philip Nelson, as he will be making just his third start. He struggled against Wisconsin two weeks ago, but looked good against Purdue last week. But then again, who doesn’t? His best bet is to try to beat Michigan’s corners deep a few times, which will likely happen, either with long completions or drawing pass interference penalties. But while it might get the Gophers a few big plays, it won’t be enough to sustain the offense against Michigan’s highly-rated defense.

Michigan will win convincingly and retain the Little Brown Jug for the fifth straight season. It won’t be like last year’s 58-0 romp, but it will be a win and keep Michigan in the Big Ten title hunt.

Michigan vs Minnesota game preview

Friday, November 2nd, 2012


Michigan’s los to Nebraska last weekend put the Wolverines in a must-win scenario for every game the rest of the season. And it all starts tomorrow with the battle for the Little Brown Jug. It’s our very own Matt’s favorite rivalry.

Minnesota enters with a 5-3 record, but has won just one of four since Big Ten play started. The Gophers munched on douglas-firs – UNLV, New Hampshire, Western Michigan, and Syracuse – before dropping three straight to Iowa, Northwestern, and Wisconsin. Last week, Minnesota got back in the win column with a 44-28 win over Purdue.

TCF Bank Stadium  -  Minneapolis, Minn.
12pm EST  -  Big Ten Network
______________

Minnesota Head Coach: Jerry Kill (2nd season)
Coaching Record: 8-12 (at Minn.), 135-85 (overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Matt Limegrover
Defensive Coordinator: Tracy Claeys
Returning Starters: 13 (7 offense, 6 defense)
Last Season: 3-9 (2-6)
Last Meeting: Michigan 58 – Minnesota 0 (2011)
All-time Series: Michigan leads 71-24-3
In Ann Arbor: Michigan leads 38-12-1
In Michigan Stadium: 32-10-1
Current Streak: Michigan 4

Minnesota is fighting for bowl eligibility, needing at least one more win in its four remaining games. That will likely come next week against Illinois, but the Gophers would like to become bowl eligible this week and take back the Little Brown Jug. Can they? Let’s take a look at the matchups.

When Minnesota has the ball

Minnesota will be starting freshman quarterback Philip Nelson for the third straight week. He turned in rather pedestrian numbers against Wisconsin in his first start (13-of-24 for 149 yards, two interceptions and two touchdowns) but had a good game against Purdue last week (15-of-22 for 246 yards, three touchdowns, and no picks). He can also run a little bit, having carried the ball 25 times for 104 yards.

He will be throwing to junior A.J. Barker and a bunch of other guys. Barker leads the Gophers with 30 receptions for 577 yards and seven touchdowns. The next best receiver is Isaac Fruechte who has just 13 catches for 193 yards and two touchdowns. MarQueis Gray, who converted from quarterback to receiver, has caught seven passes for 73 yards in the past two weeks. He’s a great athlete, so he’s always dangerous with the ball in his hands.

In the backfield, Donnell Kirkwood is the workhorse with 138 carries for 609 yards and three touchdowns so far. He had his best game of the season last week, rushing for 134 yards on 6.1 yards per carry. No other running back has done much – Gray and Nelson are second and third on the team – but freshman Rodrick Williams Jr has been getting more carries each of the last three weeks.

The Gophers are only scoring 25 points per game and were held to 13 by Iowa, Northwestern, and Wisconsin. You might recognize that as the magic number Michigan has allowed a few times this season. Michigan’s defense has been outstanding the past six weeks, giving up an average of 9.8 points per game. The Wolverines held Nebraska well below its season average despite an offense that couldn’t stay on the field in the second half without Denard Robinson. Minnesota shouldn’t hurt Michigan at all with the run game, so look for Nelson to challenge Michigan’s secondary downfield. Even though Michigan features the top-ranked pass defense in the country, the corners have still been susceptible over the top.

When Michigan has the ball

Minnesota has the 7th-ranked pass defense in the nation but the 82nd-ranked rush defense. That shows that teams have been able to run all over the Gophers. The best rush offenses Minnesota has faced, Wisconsin and Northwestern, put up 337 and 208 rushing yards, respectively. Iowa also had a 100-yard rusher.

Rushing Attempts: 12 – Denard will pass Tyrone Wheatley for 6th in career rushing attempts.
Rushing Yards: 4 – Denard will pass Tyrone Wheatley for 4th in career rushing yards. With 115, he could pass Missouri’s Brad Smith (2002-05) for 2nd in NCAA FBS history. With 219, he could pass Jamie Morris for 3rd in Michigan history.
Rushing Touchdowns: 1 – Denard will pass Mike Hart for 3rd in career rushing touchdowns.
100 rushing yards: Denard will pass Jamie Morris for 4th in career 100-yard rushing games.
Pass Completions: 17 – Denard will pass Tom Brady for 5th in career completions.
Pass Yards: 211 – Denard will pass Elvis Grbac for 3rd in career passing yards.
Total Yards: 170 – Denard will pass Illinois’ Juice Williams (2006-09) for 6th in career total yards in Big Ten history.
Field Goals: 1 – Brendan Gibbons will tie Bob Bergeron for 6th in career field goals made. With 3 he will tie Ali Haji-Sheikh for 5th.

Safety Troy Stoudermire and cornerback Derrick Wells are the leading tacklers, while Wells also has a pair of interceptions. Linebackers Mike Rallis and Keanon Cooper are returning starters from last season and rank third and fourth on the team in tackles.

The defensive line found a pair of guys to step up after being a disaster last season. DL Wilhite leads the team and ranks second in the Big Ten with 6.5 sacks and also has nine tackles for loss. RaShede Hageman has also made an impact in the backfield, ranking sixth in the conference with four sacks.

Expect Michigan to run the ball just like it did against Purdue and Illinois. With a healthy Denard, Michigan should be able to eat up chunks of yards on the ground and only pass a handful of times.

The other third

Kicker Jordan Wetterstein is just 9-of-16 this season with a long of 44, while punter Christian Eldred averages just 37.4 yards per punt, which ranks ninth in the Big Ten. The Gophers don’t have much in the way of a return game. Barker handles punt returns and averages 7.1 yards per, but no one ranks in the top ten in the conference in kick returns.

Prediction

As I mentioned above, look for Michigan to run the ball. Denard better go out of bounds when necessary to avoid big hits, and hopefully the game can be well in hand by the end of the third quarter so he can rest and give Russell Bellomy some more game action. On the other side of the ball, Minnesota may connect a couple long balls, but shouldn’t be able to move the ball very much against Michigan’s defense. Michigan will retain control of the Jug for the fifth straight year.

Michigan 37 – Minnesota 10

Bonus: After Michigan’s win, root hard for Michigan State. Yes, I said it and I know it goes against everything you’ve been taught, but Michigan’s only chance of winning the Legends division is for Nebraska to lose one if its remaining game, and this is their best chance. So go Sparty!

Minnesota: first look

Monday, October 29th, 2012


Read our preseason preview here.

This Saturday, Michigan looks to follow up a poor performance against Nebraska with a win over Minnesota. The Gophers are currently in last place in the Big Ten Legends division, while Michigan is in a battle for first with Nebraska. At this point, every game is a must-win if Michigan wants any chance of reaching the Big Ten championship game. Minnesota, meanwhile, is still fighting for relevancy.

The Gophers picked up their first conference victory last Saturday, beating Purdue 44-28. You might remember that as being the same number of points Michigan scored on Purdue, though the Wolverines held the Boilers to just 13.

Michigan’s loss to Nebraska dropped the Wolverines to just 3-4 on the road in Brady Hoke’s tenure (not counting the neutral site loss to Alabama), so Michigan will need a win in Minneapolis to pull even in that regard. Does Minnesota have a shot at upsetting the Wolverines and dismantling their Big Ten title hopes? Or will Michigan keep those hopes alive? Let’s take a look.

Minnesota 2012 Statistics & Michigan Comparison
Minnesota Michigan Rank Opponent Rank
Points Per Game 25.2 | 28.0 82 | 63 23.1 | 17.2 43 | 14
Rushing Yards 1,303 | 1,653 1,424 | 1,161
Rush Avg. Per Game 162.9 | 206.6 61 | 27 178.0 | 145.1 84 | 46
Avg. Per Rush 4.0 | 5.2 5.0 | 3.7
Passing Yards 1,650 | 1,372 1,279 | 1,162
Pass Avg. Per Game 206.2 | 171.5 87 | 108 159.9 | 145.2 7 | 1
Total Offense 2,953 | 3,025 2,703 | 2,323
Total Off Avg. Per Game 369.1 | 378.1 88 | 83 337.9 | 290.4 27 | 9
Kick Return Average 17.5 | 22.6 109 | 52 17.0 | 21.0 7 | 60
Punt Return Average 7.9 | 10.4 69 | 39 5.1 | 6.3 30 | 54
Avg. Time of Possession 31:49 | 30:45 25 | 45 28:11 | 29:15
3rd Down Conversion Pct 39% | 47% 72 | 23 39% | 35% 61 | 37
Sacks By-Yards 16-107 | 10-95 56 | 104 12-87 | 7-55 35 | 12
Touchdowns Scored 25 | 26 24 | 14
Field Goals-Attempts 9-16 | 14-17 6-7 | 13-18
Red Zone Scores (20-26) 77% | (25-28) 89% 80 | 20 (18-21) 86% | (19-22) 86% 95 | 92
Red Zone Touchdowns (15-26) 58% | (14-28) 50% (14-21) 67% | (10-22) 45%

On paper, Michigan and Minnesota look fairly similar – at least on offense. I never thought I would utter those words in a senior Denard-led offense, but that’s where we are eight games into the season. But while they look fairly even on paper, in actuality, Michigan has faced three of the nation’s top ten scoring defenses, while the best one Minnesota has faced is Wisconsin, which ranks 17th. In fact, the average scoring defense among the teams Minnesota has played is 56th, plus the 65th ranked scoring defense in the FCS. Conversely, Michigan’s is 51st.

The main discrepancy between the two teams is on defense. Michigan boasts the nation’s ninth-best total defense, 14th-best scoring defense and top pass defense, while Minnesota has the 43rd-best scoring defense and 27th-best total defense. The biggest mismatch may be in Michigan’s rush offene, which ranks 27th against Minnesota’s rush defense, which ranks 84th.

Freshman Philip Nelson has started the last two games at QB (photo by Andy Manis, AP)

The main playmaker for the Gophers is quarterback-turned-receiver MarQueis Gray. He started the season at quarterback, but made the move to receiver in favor of Max Shortell. Shortell then gave way to freshman Philip Nelson who has started the past two games and completed 61 percent of his passes for 395 yards, five touchdowns, and two interceptions. Against Purdue on Saturday, he went 15-of-22 for 246 and three TDs.

Gray is the team’s second leading rusher (from his time at quarterback) with 320 yards on 54 attempts and has caught eight passes for 89 yards since making the move.

Running back Donnell Kirkwood has rushed 132 times for 609 yards (an average of 4.4 yards per carry) and three touchdowns, while Nelson, having played in only the last two games, has rushed for 104 yards on 25 carries.

The receiving corps is pretty much a one-man show. Junior A.J. Barker has 30 catches for 577 yards and seven touchdowns. No other Gopher has more than 13 catches or 193 yards, however, 16 different players have caught a pass and 14 of those have caught at least two. The Minnesota passing offense is sixth-best in the Big Ten, just a few yards per game behind Nebraska, so Michigan’s top-rated pass defense will have its hands full once again.

The rush offense is also sixth in the conference, averaging 162.9 yards per game, but Wisconsin and Iowa held the Gophers to just 96 and 102 rushing yards, respectively.

Defensively, Minnesota allows just 159.9 yards per game through the air, good for seventh nationally and second in the Big Ten behind Michigan, but that is largely due to the success other teams have on the ground. Iowa’s Mark Weisman rushed for 177 yards on 21 carries, Northwestern’s Venric Mark gained 182 yards on 20 carries, and Wisconsin had two ball carriers with big days – James White had 175 yards on 15 carries and Montee Ball had 166 on 24. Needless to say, Minnesota’s rush defense has been anything but stout, and that’s good news for a Michigan offense that needs to get back on track.

Another area that Michigan seems to have a major advantage is on special teams. Brendan Gibbons has been getting quite a workout the past few weeks, and hopefully Michigan won’t need him much on Saturday, but he (and Matt Wile’s) 14-of-17 rate is far and away better than Minnesota kicker Jordan Wetterstein’s 9-of-16. In addition, punter Christian Eldred ranks ninth in the conference with an average of 37.4 yards per punt compared to Will Hagerup’s conference-best 45.9.

With Nebraska facing Michigan State on Saturday, this weekend is the beginning of a must-win four-game stretch for Michigan. Stay tuned for coverage throughout the week.

Monday Morning Quarterback Gets Back to the Basics

Monday, November 14th, 2011


Michigan got back on track with a win against Illinois on Saturday.  From where I was sitting, they did it by getting back to the basics on offense and with a stingy, no-nonsense defense led by cornerback J.T. Floyd and the defensive line.

The Michigan defense stifled the Illini running game and sacked quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase four times (photo by John T. Greilick, The Detroit News)

Although not in the form of traditional Michigan offenses of the past, which is okay as long as they are moving the ball and scoring points, Michigan was able to score points on an Illini defense which was ranked top-10 in the country coming into the game.  Yes, they were helped out by the defense, which stopped the Illinois offense for a number of three-and-outs and gave the Wolverines good field position all day.  But that is how it’s supposed to be right?  That’s how good teams win games.

I thought the first half was better than the second – not a surprising statement, really, considering that Denard Robinson went out with an injury and Devin Gardner had to come in and finish the game.  But the first half was so good because Offensive Coordinator Al Borges finally seemed to realize that the ball needed to get into Denard’s hands for them to have an offense.  It was because Denard was primarily in the shotgun with running back Fitzgerald Toussaint next to him that they were able to move the ball so consistently and dominate a good Illinois defense.  The Illinois defense had to respect the running ability of both Denard and Toussaint, which opened holes for Toussaint as he ran for a career high 192 yards and a touchdown.

In the second half, Borges seemed to go away from running Denard so much, which I understand if he was starting to get banged up.  Since Denard did go out with what looked like a hand injury (which happened on a pass play, not a run), I imagine that Borges was trying to save him somewhat for the remaining two games.  Whatever the case, the offense was better when he was in and running the show from the shotgun.  Gardner made some nice plays when he came in, but he looked just as inaccurate at times as Denard has been, and he doesn’t present the running threat that Denard does.

Michigan's defense harassed Nathan Scheelhaase all day, holding him to just 14 rushing yards on 16 carries and a 51.6 percent completion rate - both his lowest of the season (photo by the IlliniHQ.com)

I think that it’s only right that I mention the Michigan defense here as well.  Defensive Coordinator Greg Mattison did a great job of calling a defensive scheme that would confuse Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase.  I imagine Scheelhaase came to the line to take the snap every play and not having any idea where the defense was going to come from, as Mattison ran a number of zone blitz schemes that made it impossible for Scheelhaase to get a good pre-snap read.

The pressure on the quarterback and running game also helped out the Michigan secondary, as they were able to contain Illinois standout receiver A.J. Jenkins to eight catches for 103 yards, but no touchdowns.  Jenkins was the only source of offensive production for the Illini, and while gaining over 100 yards doesn’t sound great, no other Illinois receiver did anything special and the Illinois running game was non-existent as well.  I’ll take that all day.  Congrats to those guys on D for a job well done.

Going forward, Michigan has two tough games remaining, against Nebraska and Ohio State.  However, the silver lining in this is that they are both at the Big House, where Michigan has played tough all year.  If the Michigan defense can play like they did this past weekend in those games, I think they have a decent chance of winning those games.  Neither Nebraska nor Ohio State have potent offenses.  The key will be if Borges handcuffs the Michigan offense by trying to be too cute by running all kinds of “trick” plays and by shuffling Denard in and out of the lineup.  If they want to win these games, they are absolutely going to need to keep the ball in Denard’s hands and let him take this offense to the end zone.

Defense Dials up Victory in Champaign

Sunday, November 13th, 2011


Michigan traveled to Champaign on Saturday looking to gain momentum for the season’s final stretch, and came away with a lot of it in shutting down the Illini offense en route to a 31-14 win.

In the first quarter, Michigan picked up right where it left off in last season’s 67-65 triple-overtime win over Illinois, racking up 186 yards and two touchdowns. For the next two-plus quarters, however, it looked like we had traveled back in time to 2008 with Nick Sheridan and Steven Threet at the helm. Fortunately, the defense played like the defense of old, holding Illinois to just 214 total yards – most coming in comeback mode during the fourth quarter – and 14 points to preserve the win.

#22 Michigan 31 – Illinois 14
Final Stats
31 Final Score 14
8-2 (4-2) Record 6-4 (2-4)
362 Total Yards 214
223 Net Rushing Yards 37
139 Net Passing Yards 177
14 First Downs 15
3 Turnovers 3
4-29 Penalties – Yards 4-25
4-137 Punts – Yards 9-374
32:45 Time of Possession 27:15
6-of-14 Third Down Conversions 5-of-17
0-for-1 Fourth Down Conversions 2-for-2
4-49 Sacks By – Yards 1-8
1-for-2 Field Goals 0-for-0
4-for-4 PATs 2-for-2
3-for-6 Red Zone Scores – Chances 2-for-2

Michigan lost the toss, got the ball first, and wasted no time getting down to business. On the second play of the game, Fitz Toussaint broke a 65-yard run to the Illinois 15-yard line. Two plays later, Denard Robinson took it in from nine yards out to put Michigan on top 7-0.

After a pair of Illinois’ three-and-outs sandwiched around one by Michigan, the Wolverines had another good drive brewing until Denard fumbled at the Illini 23. But the Michigan defense forced another three-and-out and got the ball back in Illini territory.

As the second quarter began, Robinson found the end zone again, putting Michigan ahead 14-0. Illinois finally picked up its first first down of the game on its next possession, but was still forced to punt. Michigan marched down to the Illini 2-yard line, but just like the end to last week’s loss to Iowa, Michigan was stuffed on four straight plays to turn the ball over on downs.

Michigan got it right back, however, when Jordan Kovacs stuck his helmet on the ball and knocked it away from Illini running back Jason Ford. Thomas Gordon recovered on the Illini 13-yard line putting Michigan in prime position to take a three-score lead. But three players later, on 3rd-and-18, Robinson was sacked by Whitney Mercilus and fumbled it back to Illinois.

Michigan’s defense rose to the occasion and forced another three-and-out, and then drove back into Illini territory with a chance to put some more points on the board before the half. But Brendan Gibbons missed a 38-yard field goal and Michigan went into the half up by 14.

Both teams traded punts to start the second half, so Illinois brought in backup quarterback Reilly O’Toole to replace Nathan Scheelhaase and try to provide a spark, but Michigan forced another punt.

Michigan got its next big break when, after going three-and-out, Illinois returnman Ryan Lankford fumbled and John McColgan recovered at the Illini 32. Devin Gardner replaced Robinson and led Michigan to a 27-yard field goal to go ahead 17-0.

Illinois answered with its first good drive of the game, going 75 yards in 11 plays, capped off by a 15-yard Scheelhaase touchdown run.

Fitz Toussaint rushed for 192 yards, the most by a Michigan running back since Mike Hart in 2007 (photo by Getty Images)

Michigan punted the ball back to Illinois, but cornerback J.T. Floyd made perhaps the biggest play of the game, picking off Scheelhaase and returning it 43 yards to the Illini 22. Three plays later, Gardner connected with Martavious Odoms for a 27-yard touchdown to put Michigan ahead 24-7.

Illinois wouldn’t go away, however, marching 80 yards in 18 plays for a 1-yard Jason Ford touchdown run to pull within 10.

It was as close as the Illini would get, as Michigan recovered the onside kick and Toussaint reeled off a 13-yard run followed by a 27-yard touchdown run for the final score of 31-14.

Offensively, Toussaint was the man of the day, rushing for 192 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries. It was the most rushing yards in a game by a Michigan running back (not including Denard Robinson) since Mike Hart ran for 215 against Eastern Michigan on Oct. 6, 2007.

The big story, however, was the play of the Michigan defense. While the offense moved the ball well in the first quarter, it struggled to score points, and the defense did its part to keep Illinois from taking advantage. Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison used a great scheme to disrupt the Illini offense that features the Big Ten’s best receiver and racked up 561 yards and 65 points against Michigan last season. A.J. Jenkins still managed eight receptions for 103 yards, but he was targeted 18 times, and Michigan corners Floyd and Blake Countess did a great job of keeping him from beating them.

Michigan’s defense held Illinois’ usually powerful rushing attack to just 37 yards on 33 attempts (1.1 yards per carry) and forced three turnovers.

Robinson left the game in the third quarter with a hand injury after completing 6-of-10 passes for 92 yards, but Hoke said after the game that he could have returned. Gardner completed 2-of-5 passes for 47 yards and a touchdown.

Michigan hosts 17th-ranked Nebraska next Saturday at noon before ending the regular season with The Game on Thanksgiving weekend.

Friday Pick’em – Illinois Staff Predictions

Saturday, November 12th, 2011


None of us picked Michigan to lose to Iowa last week, but Chris was the closest to the actual score. He was only one point off Iowa’s final score, and the only one of us to predict Michigan would score below 35 points. But even he was almost two touchdowns too confident.

This week, we’re fighting for this sweet vintage sweater and an indian headdress. Wear them both together and you’ll be the coolest person in Champaign.

The picks:

Justin (1) – I said in the game preview that this is a very important game for Michigan. A win gives Michigan much-needed momentum heading into the final two games against Nebraska and Ohio State. A loss will produce the sinking feeling that has plagued the program late in the season the past two years.

Illinois runs a lot, and with the predicted gusty weather in Champaign, expect a lot of running by Jason Ford and Nathan Scheelhaase. Ford is a tough downhill runner, but he’s not the only back the Illini have. Scheelhaase can run the option with Troy Pollard and Donovonn Young, so expect to see quite a bit of that to take advantage of Michigan’s inability to cut off the edge. If the run game sucks up Michigan’s safeties, look for some deep balls to A.J. Jenkins, the Big Ten’s best receiver.

Offensively, Michigan has to pick up yards on first down. I hope offensive coordinator Al Borges has a a short, quick passing game in the plans because dropping Denard back in the pocket is certain death against this Illinois pass rush. If Michigan can consistently stay away from third-and-longs, it should be a good day for the offense.

Expect a close and fairly low-scoring game, but I think Michigan will be able to get back on track and avoid another late-season disaster.

Michigan 24 – Illinois 20

________________________________________________________________________________________

Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase is Illinois' leading rusher (photo by Jonathan Daniel, Getty Images)

Josh (3) - After starting strong at 6-0, Illinois has fallen on some tough times. Three straight losses to Ohio State, Purdue and at Penn State have the Illini hurting and looking for a way to get back on track. Michigan, fresh off a loss to Iowa, is the team Illinois sees as a step back in the right direction.

The Illini feature a balanced attack at just over 200 yards passing per game and just under 200 yards passing per game. Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase is their best player on offense, but more for his running than passing, a la Denard Robinson. Scheelhaase leads the team in rushing with 501 yards but is averaging a less than stellar 3.7 yards per carry. Running back Jason Ford isn’t a burner and has yet to gain 500 yards for the season but he is a big back at 235lbs. and we saw how Michigan struggled with a big back last week. Jason Ford is not Marcus Coker but he could pose some problems for the front seven of the Wolverines.

Defensive end Whitney Mercilus leads the B1G Ten in tackles for loss. In fact, he’s third in the country in that category. He also leads the conference and the country in forced fumbles at six. He, along with other DE Michael Buchanan, are big reasons the Illini boast a stout run defense, allowing only 102 yards per game. This is definitely a defense that could pose some issues for Michigan’s backs.

On offense, as I mentioned before, QB Nathan Scheelhaase is the Illini’s best player but his running overshadows his throwing. However, he has been sacked over 20 times thus far, and his measly 3.7 yards per carry average might allude to an inability to block and escape pressure.

After facing one of the conference’s two best WR’s last week, Michigan gets to face the other one. Illinois has a pretty good receiver, A.J. Jenkins, to complement its QB. Jenkins is averaging 7.5 catches per game and over 100 yards and has already gone over 1,000 yards for the season. He has seven touchdowns on the year and no other Illini receiver has more than one. If Michigan can keep tabs on Jenkins they might be able to slow him down.

Michigan bounced back after its first loss of the season and will look to do the same after last week’s heartbreaker at Iowa. Michigan played a terrible game and was still almost able to pull off the comeback. Look for Hoke’s crew to have regrouped and gotten ready for this game. Offensive Coordinator Al Borges has had some questionable play calling in the two losses, including four straight passes inside the five-yard line last week to end the game. If Borges can get back to calling plays that put the best players in the best position to help the team win, then Michigan will come out on top.

To me, this game is really a toss up. It wouldn’t surprise me to see either team win, and being in Champaign, I am slightly inclined to give the Illini the edge, especially given the way Michigan has played on the road. I don’t think Michigan’s offense, which seems to have regressed as the season wears on, is capable of putting up a ton of points on this defense. So it all comes down to how Michigan’s defense handles Illinois’ offense.

Illinois DE Whitney Mercilus leads the nation with 11.5 sacks (photo by Andy Lyons, Getty Images)

I think the second half collapses of the last two seasons still linger in the minds of the seniors and a loss this week would really put them in a bad spot, especially with the last two games against Nebraska and Ohio State. The Illini have a far superior defense but their offense doesn’t really scare me. I think Michigan pulls off the win in a close one and gets its eighth win of the season, equaling RichRod’s total in his first two years combined.

Michigan 24 – Illinois 21

____________________________________

Chris (3) - After last week’s debacle when Michigan couldn’t pick up three yards for a touchdown to give them a chance to tie the game against Iowa, I couldn’t even think about Michigan football until today.  Talk about a frustrating and ridiculous set of play calls by Offensive Coordinator Al Borges.  Let’s hope that this week Borges puts the ball in Denard’s hands and allows him to go win the game for the Wolverines!  Seriously.  There are only three regular season games remaining.  There’s no reason to protect Denard.  Give him the ball and let him do his thing.

Anyway, we move on from last week to this week’s game at Illinois.  This is going to be another one of those games that is hard to get an accurate reading on the teams.  Both teams started out the season strong and have fallen off the pace over the last three-to-four weeks.  Both have offenses which are struggling to find an identity lately.  And both teams have defenses which are generally strong, but give up big plays sometimes when it hurts.

Illinois’ strength is their 6th-ranked defense.  Defensive end Whitney Mercilus leads the nation in sacks and fumbles forced.  The Illinois linebackers are good and the secondary returned three of four starters from last year’s unit.  They are giving up around 17 points per game.

Offensively, the Illini have multi-threat quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase leading the way.  He will present a dynamic run/pass threat for the Michigan defense to contain, because unlike a lot of “running” QBs, Scheelhaase can throw the ball as well.  It doesn’t hurt to have Wide Receiver A.J. Jenkins to throw to either.  Jenkins has over 1,000 yards receiving and 7 TDs already this year.

I see this game as a toss-up.  Without knowing if Borges will pull his head out of his butt and call a better game, it is difficult to predict how the Michigan offense will play.  My hope is that Head Coach Brady Hoke will get the team ready to play again this week after the loss to Iowa in the same way that he did after the loss to MSU.  Against Purdue, the Wolverines played inspired on both sides of the ball and they will need to do that again to win against Illinois.  The truth is, Michigan still has an outside shot at winning their Division and playing for the Big Ten Championship if they can take care of business and get some help from the teams around them.  I’m sure that’s a point which Hoke brought to the team’s attention this week.

I think this game will be a low-scoring, back and forth kind of game.  I also expect there to be a decent amount of turnovers, probably at least two per team.  My key stat for this game is that Illinois Head Coach Ron Zook is 1-7 at Illinois following a bye week.  Because of that and my expectation for Michigan to be re-focused after last week’s loss, I am going to predict the Wolverines to win on Saturday.

Michigan 21 – Illinois 20

Game 10 Preview: Illinois

Friday, November 11th, 2011


[Ed.: Sorry for the lateness on this one. I've been fighting a cold and the medicine knocked me out last night while I was trying to write the preview. I've also been in Pittsburgh for work the past couple of days and haven't had much free time. Darn real job!]

Michigan finds itself in a familiar position as the last two seasons. After racing out to a 6-0 record, Michigan has dropped two of its last three games, to Michigan State and Iowa – both on the road. In the last two seasons, it kept going downhill, ultimately leading to Rich Rodriguez’s dismissal. This year is beginning to look no different, but Michigan has a chance to change that tomorrow.

#24 Michigan v. Illinois
Saturday Nov. 12
3:30 p.m. ET
ESPN
7-2 (3-2) Record 6-3 (2-3)
Western Michigan 34-10
Notre Dame 35-31
Eastern Michigan 31-3
San Diego State 28-7
Minnesota 58-0
Northwestern 42-24
Purdue 36-14
Wins Arkansas State 33-15
S. Dakota State 56-3
#22 Arizona State 17-14
Western Michigan 23-20
Northwestern 38-35
Indiana 41-20
#23 Michigan State 14-28
Iowa 16-24
Losses Ohio State 7-17
Purdue 14-21
#19 Penn State 7-10
32.7 Scoring Offense 26.2
232.2 Rushing YPG 198.4
195.9 Passing YPG 204.1
428.1 Total Offense 402.6
15.7 Scoring Defense 17.2
137.4 Rush Defense YPG 102.9
192.0 Pass Defense YPG 177.2
329.4 Total Defense YPG 280.1
20 Takeaways 16
16 Giveaways 19
17/12 Sacks By/Allowed 31/25
56-of-112 (50%) Third-down Conv. 65-of-133 (49%)
7-for-9 (77.8%) Field Goals 7-for-8 (87.5%)
32.9 Net Punt Avg. 33.8

With a pair of tough home games to close the season, tomorrow is a must-win for Brady Hoke’s squad. A win would give Michigan confidence heading back to Ann Arbor to face Nebraska and Ohio State. A loss, however, would put the pressure on Michigan to avoid ending the season on a four-game skid and finishing with a 7-5 record – identical to last year’s regular season record. That scenario would be a tough pill to swallow for Michigan supporters that expected the coaching change to yield better results, especially with so much returning talent.

Fortunately for Michigan, Illinois is on a slide of its own. The Illini began the season 6-0 and was ranked as high as 16th, but has dropped three straight, to Ohio State, Purdue, and Penn State. The Illini offense that averaged 34.6 points per game all but disappeared in the last three, averaging just 9.3.

Everybody remembers last season’s titanic show of offense – or lack of defense – in which Michigan won 67-65 in three overtimes. This time, both teams actually enter with respectable defenses – Michigan’s ranked 7th nationally, giving up 15.7 points per game, and Illinois’ ranked 13th nationally, allowing 17.2.

Something’s gotta give, so let’s take a look at the matchups. This week, we’re just going to look at Illinois’ position groups since we all know who Michigan has.

Quarterback:

Nathan Scheelhaase is a talented and dangerous runner. In fact, he’ll give Michigan a good practice for Taylor Martinez and Braxton Miller in the final two games. He’s the Illini’s leading rusher with 501 yards on 137 carries (just 3.7 yards per carry) and five touchdowns. Through the air, he completes 63.9 percent of his passes for 1,687 yards, 12 touchdowns and five interceptions. In other words, he’s no slouch.

Edge: Michigan

Running Backs:

Senior Jason Ford is the featured back, trailing Scheelhaase by just nine rushing yards despite 12 fewer carries. He leads the team in rushing touchdowns with six, and at 6’1″ and 235 pounds, he’s a load to bring down. He had his best game of the season two weeks ago against Penn State, rushing 24 times for 100 yards.

A couple other backs have gotten carries as well. Senior Troy Pollard has a pair of 100-yard games this season, against South Dakota State and Western Michigan. He averages 8.1 yards per carry. Freshman Donovonn Young has four touchdowns and recorded a 100-yard game against Western Michigan as well.

Edge: Illinois

Receivers and Tight Ends:

The best receiver in the Big Ten resides in Champagne. Senior A.J. Jenkins leads the conference with 68 receptions for 1,030 yards. He also has seven touchdowns. He terrorized Northwestern to the tune of 268 yards and three touchdowns on 12 receptions. He also caught six for 182 and two TDs against Indiana.

However, Jenkins is as much of a one-man show as you can possibly get. The next leading receiver on the team is sophomore Spencer Harris, who has 22 receptions for 189 yards and a touchdown. Two others – Darius Millines and Ford – have over 100 yards on the season, but that’s about it. Tight end Evan Wilson has just seven catches all season, but three have gone for touchdowns.

Edge: Even

Offensive Line:

Illinois has given up 25 sacks, third worst in the Big Ten, and has paved the way for the conference’s 5th-best rush attack. The Illini might be without juniro guard Hugh Thornton who had knee surgery during the bye week. Junior Tyler Sands, a former high school All-American may get his first start in his place. That should certainly be a hinderance for the Illini, since bout sixty percent of the offense is through the run.

Edge: Michigan

A.J. Jenkins is the Illini receiving corps (photo by Andy Lyons, Getty Images)

Defensive Line:

This is a major source of concern for Michigan. Illinois ranks third nationally in sacks with 31. The main guy is Whitney Mercilus, who 16.5 tackles-for-loss and leads the nation with 11.5 sacks. He has recorded at least one sack in all but two games – South Dakota State and Purdue. But he’s not one man show. Michael Buchanan has five sacks and 10.5 tackles-for-loss.

Edge: Illinois

Linebackers:

Jonathan Brown and Ian Thomas have a combined five sacks and are the team’s leading tacklers with 69 and 55, respectively. Illinois ranks 15th nationally against the run, giving up just 102.89 yards per game and just 2.7 yards per carry. That doesn’t bode well for Michigan’s run game on a day in which the wind looks to be a major factor.

Edge: Illinois

Secondary:

Illinois has also done well this season with its pass defense, ranking eighth nationally, allowing 177 yards per game through the air. Much of that is a result of the pass rush, but the secondary is certainly worthy as well. Defensive backs Terry Hawthorne and Trulon Henry each have a couple of interceptions. Henry is sometimes used as a linebacker in defensive coordinator Vic Koennig’s defense.  The unit has allowed just one 100-yard receiver all season, Western Michigan’s Jordan White, who caught 14 passes for 132 yards and a touchdown.

Edge: Even

Special Teams:

Kicker Derek Dimke has connected on 7-of-8 field goals this season with a long of 49 and converted all 27 extra points. His only miss was the “doink” off the upright in overtime against Penn State. Punter Justin DuVernois has booted 43 punts for an average of 37.6 yards. One aspect that Illinois has been horrific at is the return game. The Illini rank 118th and 119th nationally in punt and kick returns, which certainly doesn’t help with field position.

Edge: Michigan

Coaching:

Ron Zook has been on the hot seat since he left Florida. He consistently pulls in solid recruiting classes but that hasn’t translated into wins. He’s always been viewed as a poor game management coach, especially when he goes for two because he forgets what the score is.

Edge: Michigan

Intangibles:

Michigan hasn’t fared well in road games the past few years, and this year is no different. Two of the three road trips so far have resulted in losses, and Michigan’s worst offensive performances of the year. Illinois has been strong at home, it’s only loss coming to Ohio State. The weather is calling for sustained wins around 19 miles per hour with gusts up into the 40s. That should favor the run game, which both teams excel at. However, Illinois does a better job stopping it.

Edge: Illinois

Prediction:

Both teams are on a slide right now but the pressure is on Michigan. With tough home games against Nebraska and Ohio State remaining, this one is virtually a must win to gain back some momentum heading into those games. A loss would undo much of the goodwill created early in the season about Brady Hoke, fair or not. It’s his first year at Michigan, but with so many returning starters, if Michigan slides at the end of the season like it did the past two years, questions will begin creeping up about whether keeping Rich Rodriguez would have been the better choice.

Illinois runs a shotgun-heavy spread run offense. Given Michigan’s inability to cut off the edge so far this season, look for Illinois to use the option and try to get to the edge a lot. If that happens, and Michigan’s safeties start creeping up, watch out for a couple of deep balls to Jenkins.

When Michigan has the ball, staying out of third-and-long situations is a must. If Denard is put in obvious passing situations, it could be a long day for the Michigan offense and the pressure Illinois will bring could force some of the bad Denard throws we see every every too often. If Michigan can counteract Mercilus’ rush and pick up chunks of yards on first and second down, it could move the ball pretty well.

Regardless, I think we’re looking at a close and fairly low-scoring game that will come down to which team takes better care of the ball.

Michigan 24 – Illinois 20

Good to Know:

Michigan leads the all-time series 67-23-2, including 40-6-2 in the last 48. Michigan is 33-12-1 in Champaign

Michigan ranks 2nd in Big Ten play in point differential (plus-76), has allowed the second-fewest points (90), and has scored the third-most (166)

Opponents have converted just 29.5 percent of third downs against Michigan’s defense this season (18-of-61)

Last week was the first game all season the Michigan defense did not force a turnover. UM ranks second in the Big Ten and 17th nationally in turnovers forced.

Michigan is tied for first nationally in red zone defense (18-of-28, 64 percent)

Record Watch:
With 2 passing touchdowns, Denard Robinson will tie Tom Brady (1996-99) for 7th place on Michigan’s career list. With 4, he will tie Todd Collins (1991-94) for 6th

With 9 passing yards, Denard will pass Brian Griese (1994-97) for 8th in career passing yards.

With a 100-yard passing game, Denard will tie Steve Smith (1980-83) for 7th in career 100-yard passing games.

With 140 rushing yards, Denard will pass Billy Taylor (1969-71) for 8th on Michigan’s career rushing list

With 1 rushing touchdown, Denard will move into a tie with Tom Harmon (1938-40) and Billy Taylor (1969-71) for 7th place. With 2, he will reach Steve Smith (1980-83) for 6th

With 37 receiving yards, Junior Hemingway will pass Jim Mandich (1967-69) for 19th in career receiving yards. With 56, he can pass Marcus Knight (1996-99) for 18th and with 57, he will pass Vince Bean (1981-84) for 17th.

Roy Roundtree can pass Jim Smith (1973-76) for 15th with 28 receiving yards, and with 37, he can pass Steve Breaston (2003-06) for 14th.