2011 Michigan Wolverines Football
Michigan @ Illinois Football Preview
Something has to give this weekend in the Land of Lincoln. Either a poor road team will snatch a scalp and substantially bolster its level of belief, or a catering home team will stop its freefall, renewing hopes for an appreciably prestigious bowl bid.
The Michigan Wolverines (7-2) will try to bounce back from a disappointing loss to Iowa when they travel to Champaign, Illinois, to face the Illinois Fighting Illini (6-3). Michigan started the season 5-0, but that's partly because it didn't play a road game. Since venturing away from Ann Arbor for a few weeks, the Maize and Blue have wobbled, underscoring the fact that first-year coach Brady Hoke does not have a complete team on his hands. Michigan is still in search of a quality road win, a result that would change the way the Wolverine program is perceived on a national level, not just in the Midwest.
For Illinois, this game is also filled with urgency. The Illini started 6-0 and - similar to Michigan - learned that a hot start was the product of home cooking and a comparatively soft schedule. The rigors of the season and the physicality of Big Ten ball have caught up with Coach Ron Zook's team, which has looked like a fish out of water the past few weeks. If Illinois wants to make a move up the Big Ten's bowl ladder, that move has to begin this weekend against a backyard foe.
Saturday’s matchup features two of the conference’s top dual-threat quarterbacks, Michigan’s Denard Robinson (1519 yards passing, 834 rushing) and Illinois’ Nathan Scheelhaase (1687 passing, 501 rushing). The Illini, who had a bye last week, have lost three games in a row. In its most recent game, Illinois lost 10-7 on a snowy field at Penn State. Derek Dimke missed a 42-yard field goal attempt as time expired. The Illini outgained the Lions 286-209 but turned the ball over four times. A touchdown by Silas Redd with 1:08 left gave Penn State the victory. During their three-game losing streak, the Illini offense has scored just 28 points, and has gained 20 or more yards on a single play just three times. Illinois’ offensive line has given up eight sacks and 24 tackles for loss during the slide.
Michigan is 5-12 on the road since 2008. Last week, the Wolverines lost 24-16 at Iowa. Michigan had a chance to tie the score during the final minute, but failed on four attempts from the three-yard line, including a controversial replay ruling on an apparent touchdown catch by Junior Hemingway.
Last year, Michigan beat Illinois 67-65 in triple overtime at Michigan Stadium. This year, one should not expect anything of the sort; when Rich Rodriguez left Michigan's head coaching post, the Wolverines' very best offense and their worst defense both fled as well. This year's contest should be much closer to the vest.
With a win, Illinois would lock up a winning record for the second season in a row. The Illini haven’t had back-to-back winning seasons since 1990.
By: Matt Zemek